On July 17, 2015 a Spirit Airlines Airbus A319 flying from Chicago O’Hare to Boston is said to have reported a strong smell of dirty socks as the plane began its descent. There were apparently issues with the cockpit crew communicating with air traffic control, including acknowledging the correct handoff frequency. The first officer put on his oxygen mask, “recovered a bit and recognized that the captain had sunk into his seat and was incapacitated.” The first officer then placed a mask on the captain and they landed the aircraft — although the flight crew “did not recall how they managed to land or taxi the aircraft.”
The aircraft’s captain was diagnosed with triorthocresyl phosphate poisoning and internal bleeding and reported several symptoms for days, and had difficulty upon returning to duty.
[F]ollowing the fume event, after the captain returned to work following the fume event, the collegues noticed that the captain became increasingly dithering and unreliable. The captain lost eye and hand coordination as well as threedimensional perceiption. One day the captain parked his aircraft in such a way, that the crew taking the aircraft over the next day feared the captain might have been intoxicated.
Fifty days after the flight incident he died of a heart attack which is suspected to be related to the toxins from the plane.
Both pilots of a Germanwings Airbus A319 were nearly incapacitated by fumes in the cockpit on December 19, 2010 on approach to Cologne, Germany.
On January 28, 2018 a Spirit Airlines Airbus A320 that same aircraft experienced a fume event where crew and passengers vomited.
On October 1 2018 a Spirit Airlines Airbus A319 experienced fumes in the passenger cabin shortly after departure from Fort Lauderdale. The crew decided to continue to Guayaquil, Ecuador. At least six passengers required medical care on arrival, and all of the flight attendants were taken to the hospital.
[A] number of passengers began to complain about feeling sick due to an odour described as rotten smell by some or dirty old socks by others, all three cabin crew began to feel unwell, too. The flight crew was notified of the fumes however decided to continue the flight to Guayaquil. Medlink was called to provide first medical assistance to passengers and cabin crew, the passengers were offered oxygen. Passengers reported nausea, burning eyes, upset stomach and headache. One of the flight attendants began to vomit, another one was shaking and nearly became unconscious, the third complained about nausea and headache with burning eyes. Rashes developed.
On April 2, 2019, an American Airlines Airbus A321 diverted to Wilmington, North Carolina reporting fumes in the cockpit.
American Airlines Airbus A319
On April 17, 2019, an Air Canada Rouge Airbus A319 returned to Toronto due to an odor in the cockpit. Then on April 23, 2019, an Air Canada Rouge Airbus A319 reported fumes in the cockpit, pilots donned oxygen masks, and the aircraft diverted to Raleigh, North Carolina.
On May 3, 2019, a Spirit Airlines Airbus A321 returned to Los Angeles 40 minutes after departure due to an odor in the cockpit and the cabin, and a passenger was hospitalized.
On June 29, 2019 a Spirit Airlines Airbus A320 stopped its climb out and returned to Atlantic City due to fumes on board, and crew were taken to the hospital as a precaution.
On July 7, 2019 a Spirit Airlines Airbus A321 had reported fumes in the cabin throughout flight from Tampa to Orlando. Some members of the flight crew were hospitalized on arrival. The airline concluded that “too much oil was used to service the auxiliary power unit.”
In 2013 Airbus warned of fume events from failure to clean environmental systems following leaks, and suggesting “A clean APU means clean cabin air.”
Air supplied by the Environmental Conditioning System (ECS) can be contaminated by the unavoidable ingestion of environmental pollutants such as industrial pollution as well as engine exhaust pollution from the many vehicles and aircraft operating in the airport environment.
Since the ECS is supplied with air from the Auxiliary Power Unit (APU), engine bleed system or Ground Power Units (GPU), there is also a possibility of contamination from these.
One source of in-service contamination events reported on the A320 Family fleet is the APU. This results from either internal leakage or re-ingestion of oil following external leakage. It is worth noting that a noticeable cabin odour can be generated from ingesting only a very small amount of oil.
There are scores of Airbus narrowbody fume incidents across diverse carriers — including some fume occurrences leading to flight diversions and hospitalized passengers and crew — across JetBlue, Austrian, British Airways, American Airlines, Spirit, Lufthansa, easyJet, Aer Lingus, Jetstar, Germanwings, Turkish, Air France, Delta and others.
Dangerous fume events are rare overall. Over 8000 Airbus A320 family aircraft have been delivered. Most operate multiple flights per day. So these are outlier events.
Lucky Air Airbus A319-112 B-6221 by byeangel from Tsingtao, China via Wikimedia Commons
On the other hand the majority of reported fume events in recent times have seemed to occur in Airbus narrowbodies. Airbus, airlines, the FAA and international regulators are familiar with and have paid attention to these events and yet they keep occurring. We don’t hear about them as a systematic issue, and I have to wonder if Airbus is doing enough, proactively enough, about it?