FAA Technical Report

Detection and Prevention of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning In General Aviation Aircraft

A Study by Wichita State University

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a byproduct of the combustion of fuel and is emitted in the exhaust of gasoline, propane, or other fuel-powered equipment and engines. It is formed by the incomplete combustion of carbon-containing materials, which are present in aviation fuels. CO is a hidden danger because it is a colorless and odorless gas. Exposure to CO can cause harmful health effects depending on the air concentration and duration of exposure. CO is an asphyxiant in humans, where inhalation causes tissue hypoxia by preventing the blood from carrying sufficient oxygen. Acute CO poisoning is associated with headache, dizziness, fatigue, nausea, and at elevated doses, neurological damage and death. Higher acute exposure or chronic exposures can also affect the heart, particularly in those with cardiovascular disease.

Exposure to CO can result in individuals becoming confused or incapacitated before they are able to leave the contaminated environment. When this occurs in an aircraft, the end result could quite possibly be an accident. Zelnick, et al. [1], reported on studies identifying the contribution of CO poisoning to fatal accidents in aviation, where estimates ranged from 0.5% to 2.0% related to CO. Although the sources of CO generation during flight are known, little is known regarding the exposure to CO during normal flight operations...

Click here to read the full FAA Technical Report, DOT/FAA/AR-09/49.

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