‘Tis the Season for Carbon Monoxide in Flying

While this winter has been warm to start, it will get colder. And winter flying increases the likelihood that pilots will experience carbon monoxide while flying.

The FAR/AIM details some information in section 8-1-4 (Click here to see more – https://www.airresearch.com/Pilots/AIM-08/Chap8/aim0801.html), defining it as “a colorless, odorless, and tastelass gas contained in exhaust fumes.” This gas “can significantly reduce the ability of the blood to carry oxygen,” which adversely affect pilot health with major symptoms being headache, drowsiness, or dizziness which can lead to loss of consciousness or even death.

Most light aircraft that we fly have heaters that operate by air flowing over the manifold or fuel fired heaters that, if cracks are present, can potentially allow exhaust fumes into the cabin of the aircraft.

As we all go into flying in the winter season, an added awareness of the potential symptoms is encouraged.

Available from many aviation products suppliers, a carbon monoxide indicator that can be stuck to a panel in the aircraft is a good addition to any aircraft. This will help identify if carbon monoxide is present if any concerns arise. Make sure if you have one of these, it is fresh and unexpired. Another key indicator is if all occupants in the aircraft are exhibiting similar symptoms. While nausea is a common symptom of carbon monoxide poisoning, it is also commonly just an indicator of motion sickness. If only one aircraft occupant is feeling the symptom, it may just be motion sickness. But if all occupants are feeling the same symptom, it may be an indicator of a bigger problem.

If you are flying and have any suspicions that some or all the symptoms are present, there are a few things you can do to help minimize the effects.

Turn off any heaters in the aircraft;
Ventilate the aircraft using fresh air vents or if in an unpressurized aircraft, opening windows or doors if necessary;
Proceed as soon as practical to the nearest appropriate airport for your aircraft, diverting if not near your destination

If your aircraft happens to be in the shop for any maintenance, asking the mechanic to do a quick extra check of the heating and ventilation system can also help identify any potential developing problems that can be addressed prior to them becoming more critical. Make sure your heating system is operating properly and keep on top of any potential maintenance issues with heat exchangers. Your life may depend on it.

Carbon monoxide can be deadly and shouldn’t be minimized if any concerns are present. As we all fly through winter, some extra vigilance is worth consideration.

For more information about carbon monoxide, check out the FAA pamphlet, Carbon Monoxide – A Deadly Menace at http://www.faa.gov/pilots/safety/pilotsafetybrochures/media/CObroforweb.pdf.

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