Flight crew categorized as “Radiation Workers” in USA


With a thousand-fold rise in commercial airline flights over the North Pole in the last 10 years, exposure to radiation has become a serious concern.

This health news is fact checked.

  • Flying an Airplane for an Hour Exposes Pilots to as Much Radiation as a Tanning Bed.
  • Almost an Hour of Flying Equals 20 Minutes of Tanning
  • Strong Link Between UV Rays and Melanoma
  • Melanoma rates have jumped for young women by 800% in USA

People who work on commercial airline flights are technically listed as “radiation workers” by the federal government – a classification that includes nuclear plant workers and X-ray technicians.

Exposure to radiation has been shown to increase health risk, according to numerous studies. Space radiation on the ground is very low, but increases significantly with altitude. At 30,000 to 40,000 feet, the typical altitude of a jetliner, exposure on a typical flight is still considered safe – less than a chest X-ray.

Exposure is considerably higher, however, over the Earth’s poles, where the planet’s magnetic field no longer provides any shielding. And with a thousand-fold rise in commercial airline flights over the North Pole in the last 10 years, exposure to radiation has become a serious concern.(https://www.nasa.gov/centers/langley/science/polar-radiation.html)

FAA Advisory circular AC No: 120-61B gives the guidance material on exposure to radiation. Whereas USA federal government categorize crew members as radiation workers, other countries including India does not do the same. The exposure limits are the same as those in the FAA advisory circular. The Indian Atomic Energy Regulation Board limits are given below.

DGCA India recently put out an Operations circular 2/2019 based on the FAA AC.

AERB limits India

The Risk of Melanoma in Pilots and Cabin CrewUV Measurements in Flying Airplanes

Recently, a meta-analysis reported an increased incidence of melanoma in pilots and cabin crew, which was possibly due to occupational exposures.1 Cabin crews’ exposure to cosmic radiation was assessed in different studies and always found below the allowed dose limit.2However, the cumulative exposure of pilots and cabin crew to UV radiation, a known risk factor for melanoma, has not been assessed to our knowledge.

Airplane windshields are commonly made of polycarbonate plastic or multilayer composite glass. UV-B (280-320 nm) transmission through both plastic and glass windshields was reported to be less than 1%. However, UV-A (320-380 nm) transmission ranged from 0.41% to 53.5%, with plastic attenuating more UV radiation than glass.3

Intrigued by our findings and the clinical observation of pilots developing melanomas on sun-exposed skin, we measured the amount of UV radiation in airplane cockpits during flight and compared them with measurements performed in tanning beds.

The pathogenic role of UV-A in melanoma is well established. UV-A is capable of causing DNA damage in cell culture5 and in animal models. Pilots flying for 56.6 minutes at 30 000 feet receive the same amount of UV-A carcinogenic effective radiation as that from a 20-minute tanning bed session. These levels could be significantly higher when flying over thick cloud layers and snow fields, which could reflect up to 85% of UV radiation. Airplane windshields do not completely block UV-A radiation and therefore are not enough to protect pilots. UV-A transmission inside airplanes can play a role in pilots’ increased risk of melanoma.

mindFly analysis

What crew should know about their occupational exposure to radiation.

If NASA’s Chris Mertens has his way, weather forecasts and airplane cockpits of the future will include measurements of hazardous radiation in the atmosphere.

Mertens, a senior scientist at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., is developing a system to predict radiation entering Earth’s atmosphere from space. The goal is to provide high-flying commercial airline passengers and crew with real-time information about the radiation they will be exposed to in flight.

“Aviation occupational radiation exposure currently is not monitored, measured and quantified,” says Mertens. “This will be the first model of its type to do that.”

Better be safe than SORRY.

About Capt. Amit Singh

I think therefore I am https://www.linkedin.com/in/traintofly/ Airlines Operations and Safety balance expert. A former head of operations/training and safety of successful LCC's in India. An experienced member of the startup teams of these airlines has hands-on experience in establishing airlines systems and processes.

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