Captain Dave Hopkinson raised the alarm about toxic fumes aboard an airliner. The airline didn’t warn the authorities.

•Please contact me if you have knowledge of any kind about toxic fumes in aircraft, e-mail [email protected].

(Dagbladet.no:) On 9 November 1998, British airline captain Dave Hopkinson became very ill when a toxic gas hit him when he switched on the air-conditioning in a Boeing 757 airliner waiting on a runway to take off.


“I was almost knocked out by the gas, which made me extremely dizzy. The rest of the crew also noticed the effects of the gas on their bodies, all of them reporting severe headaches,” says Dave Hopkinson to Dagbladet.no.

The result of the incident was that the 54-year-old eventually became so ill that he had to retire a year early. Passengers and crew had to leave the aircraft, and Hopkinson immediately wrote an alarming report to his airline, a so-called “Mandatory Occurrence Report” (MOR). By law, airlines must forward every MOR to the air transport authorities, so that the problem is made known throughout the industry.

Fought for years
The airline captain eventually realised that the documentation of the incident never got to the authorities. Thus began several years of fighting to be heard. Not until 10 January this year was the British Government challenged in the House of Lords:

On behalf of Captain Hopkinson, Lord Tyler asked the Government: What reports they had received on the potentially dangerous air contamination incident in a Boeing 757 aircraft registered G-BIKI on 9 November 1998?

Lord Davies of Oldham replied on behalf of the Government: The CAA has no record of an air contamination incident involving a Boeing 757 aircraft registered G-BIKI on 9 November 1998.

Following the questions in the House of Lords, Captain Hopkinson sent an e-mail to the British authorities in which he requested an explanation for what he believed to be “deliberate misinformation” on the part of the Aviation Authority.


Finally proven
“The result of the incident was that I had to retire early on the grounds of bad health, so I can only assume, as others have, that British air transport authorities have an agenda when it comes to the problems of contaminated air in airliners which merits an official investigation,” wrote Dave Hopkinson the CAA on 18 January. He enclosed his hand-written air safety report which is also reproduced in this article.

On 7 February this year he finally received the reply for which he had fought for years, directly from the CAA:

“Dear Captain Hopkinson, Thank you for your e-mail of 18 January regarding Parliamentary Question HL 3078 about an incident involving contaminated air aboard a Boeing 757, registered G-BIKI on 9 November 1998. The CA has checked the Mandatory Occurrence Reporting database and can confirm that no report was received about an incident on 9 November 1998. The CAA has contacted the airline’s Safety Manager, but they appear to be unable to confirm that the air safety report was ever forwarded to the British air transport authorities,” states the reply Hopkinson received from the CAA.

Thus Hopkinson finally had proof that the airline had kept back the air safety report.

“Report directly to us”
Dagbladet can document how several of the pilots’ organisations as well as the pressure group AOPIS have on several occasions drawn the CAA’s attention to widespread failure to report such toxic gas incidents, without the CAA taking action. This newspaper can also document other cases of under-reporting similar to the Hopkinson case.
 
“We are aware of these allegations, but in our opinion under-reporting is not a widespread problem. Moreover, we cannot be held responsible if the airlines fail to submit reports. Incidentally, our reporting system is reputed to be so good that other aviation authorities are considering copying it,” claims CAA spokesman Jonathan Nicholson to Dagbladet.no.

However, the CAA offers the following advice to pilots who feel that their serious concerns do not come to the attention of the authorities:
 
“If an air safety report is not forwarded to us by the airline, pilots are entitled to take matters in their own hands and report directly to the CAA. It is also possible to submit a report anonymously,” says Nicholson.