Sat, Mar 30, 2002 - Page 2 News List

Hazards of long-distance flying tackled at seminar

SAFER IN THE AIR? Medical experts said passengers are at risk from several dangers, although airline officials said these had already been identified and dealt with

By Chang Yu-jung  /  STAFF REPORTER

Modifications to airplanes that would make long-distance flying safer and more comfortable are unlikely in the near future because of the expense, a seminar on aviation health issues was told yesterday.

The seminar, organized by the New Environment Foundation (新環境基金會), heard from scholars, medical experts and government officials on issues ranging from onboard environments and passengers' psychological stress to the health of pilots and the first-aid training of flight attendants.

"With people making nearly 10 million flights every year in Taiwan, the passengers' safety onboard should be carefully reviewed," said Lee Fuh-nan (李富男), chairman of the foundation.

Dr. Lin Chia-ku (林佳谷) from the Department of Public Health, Taipei Medical University, pointed out that besides deep vein thrombosis (DVT), low humidity, radiation/UV light and airborne infections also threaten passengers' health.

"We are not here to criticize the airlines but to call the public's attention to the possible dangers we confront while flying," said Lin.

Responding to Lin's remarks, medical specialists from China Airlines, Eva Air and an official from the Civil Aeronautics Administration said that these potential aviation hazards had been known for some time and studied at the annual Aviation Medical Conferences.

However, Shih Chien-yi (施健一), a former medical specialist of Eva Air, said that because of economic concerns, modifications to aircraft to eliminate problems caused by radiation, low humidity and noise were very unlikely in the near future.

The reported death of an air traveler, Emma Christoffersen, from DVT, also known as the economy-class syndrome, after 20 hours in the air traveling from Sydney to London in October 2000 has attracted much public attention.

Inflight dangers

* People in Taiwan make nearly 10 million flights every year.

* The chief dangers of flying are deep-vein thrombosis (DVT), low humidity, radiation and UV light, and airborne infections.

* Airline officials say these problems have been known about and studied for a long time.

* To warn people about the dangers of DVT, also called economy-class syndrome, airlines advise passengers to take enough liquid and fiber, do simple stretching exercises and not to wear tight clothes.

When asked about the possibility of enlarging the spaces between the seats in economic class to avoid DVT, Dr. Ouyang Lih (毆陽立), from the Aviation Medical Affairs Department of China Airlines, said the size of the seat and the spaces between them were not the main causes of DVT.

"The problem occurs to those who remain seated for prolonged periods of time, whether on an aircraft or on land," Shih explained.

"I must say that the aviation industry runs on a class system. You'll get a bigger seat if you are willing to pay more," Shih said.

To warn the passengers about the dangers of DVT, local airlines now provide manuals to passengers, advising them to take enough liquid and fiber, do simple stretching exercises and avoid wearing tight jeans and shirts while on board.

"Most important of all, passengers are required to consult with doctors before travelling if they are not feeling well, because minor illnesses can become unbearable during drastic changes in air pressure," Lin warned.

Regarding the health of flight crews, Hsu Jian (徐健), an official from Civil Aeronautics Administration, said that the Civil Aviation Medical Center (民用航空醫務中心) was charge of conducting first-aid training for flight attendants and regular health check-ups for pilots every six months.

Our health requirements for pilots are even more stringent than those of the US," Hsu said.

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