In Flight health- Cabin Radiation

Introduction of Cabin Radiation/ Cosmic Radiation

There is a trend in flying at higher altitudes and latitudes results an increased exposure to cosmic radiation because the level of Ozone is lesser therefore the UV is higher. Crew members flying transpolar routes are being exposed to about 6 mSv.y-1. And a number of cases have already exceed this level. Crew members who are receiving high levels of exposures can cause a number of illnesses, for example, they may have a higher chance in getting cancers (Balouet.J. 1999).

What is Cosmic Radiation?

Cosmic Radiation can be explained as the energetic particles from outer space that intrudes to the earth’s atmosphere. The concentration of ozone and the intensity of cosmic radiation both increase with altitude. Ozone is easily converted to oxygen by heat and various catalytic processes. In modern jet aircraft, almost all ozone in the ambient air is converted to oxygen in the compressors that provide pressurized air for the cabin.
The International Commission on Radiological Protection has set 1mSv per year as a basic safety standard for the protection of the health of the general public against the dangers arising from additional ionizing radiation.

How does Cosmic Radiation relates to Aviation?

Cosmic radiation can be affect to all human being whether on ground or air. However, this is specifically related to those flight crews and cabin crews more than other people due to this category of work force people are regularly being exposure to higher cosmic radiations.

Measurements carried out on routes representing different situations of exposure to cosmic radiation. The circles indicate the equivalent rate of the average ambient dose on the flight in microsieverts per hour (µSv/h). The total dose is given for a round-trip in millisievert (mSv), for the Paris-New York flight, the measurement is taken on the Concorde. (reference: Sievert-system /IRSN)
(Photo embedded from Sievert-system on 23rd Sept, 2009)

Average dose of rates received:

  • Concorde, 12-15 µSv (microsieverts) per hour;
  • Long haul aircraft, 5 µSv (microsieverts) per hour;
  • Short haul aircraft, 1-3 µSv (microsieverts) per hour dependent on the altitude reached.
  • Air crew receive 4.6 mSv, almost quarter as much again as a frequent flier.

(Figures found from british Airways- see British Airways,20091)).

Health concerns to pilots in the cockpit

Pilots have more chance being exposure to cosmic radiation in the cockpit because:
1) The design of the aircrafts cannot avoid the cosmic ray to go through the glasses in the cockpits, the bigger the aircraft is, more glasses in *the cockpit are being exposure to the atmosphere, the higher dose of cosmic radiation.

  • The concorde recieve almost a double cosmic ray than a supersonic aircraft because it fly at a high altitude. which mean, pilots who were flying the concorde would have recieved more than twice of cosmic ray than other people ( wikipedia,20093).

2) There is a correlation between the number of hours of the pilots flying in the air and the number of hours being exposure to the sun on the ground.
3) The rates of the cosmic receive in the aircraft also depend on the route that they plane is going. the closer to the Poles the more radiation being recieved.
4) All electronic devices contain radiation to the flight crews in the cockpit. hence, pilots absorb more radiation than flight attendants.

Health concerns to flight attendants

1) The travel altitudes and number of working hours of a flight attendant are probably similar to pilots, therefore, flight attendants are also reciving more than 1 mSv of cosmic radiation per year.
2) Many flight attendants are females. They are more likely to experience a few common cancers such as breast cancer and skin cancer.
3) Due to decompression in the cabin and dehydration during flights, as well as the amount of cosmetics that they use, Female flight attendants' skins are more likely to be worse than non- flying females. this may increase the chances of getting skin cancer.
4) Certain recommendations concerning occupational exposure that apply only to women because of the special sensitivity of the unborn child to ionizing radiation. Female aircrew members is the recommended monthly exposure limit during pregnancy.

Health concerns to passengers

1) Frequent travellers such as business passengers recieve a higher cosmic radiation than normal passenger who travel less.
2) Pregnant women should avoid traveling during their pregnancy because unborn child may be in the risk of being abnormal in their physical or mental developments.
3) For passengers, the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) recommends a limit of 1 mSv per year. This equates to about 200 hours flying per year on subsonic trans-equatorial routes.


The International Federation of Air Line Pilots Associations (IFALPA) recognizes 20 mSv/yr as the cosmic radiation limit for airline flight crews as established by the National Council of Radiation of Protection and Euratom. It is further recognized that airline flight crew should be categorized as occupationally exposed radiation workers, likely to receive more than 1 mSv/y.

  • Organisations should have training/ educational programs for crew members to help them to be aware of the risks when flying at high altitude as cosmic radiation imposes a potential health risk to airline flight crews
  • Female crew members should be warned that radiation exposure above 1mSv during the course of the entire pregnancy may cause an increased risk to the fetus. In addition, airlines will be required to organize the schedules of crew members with the objective of reducing the doses of highly exposed air crew, educate the crew about health risks, and give special protections to women who have declared pregnancy (FAA, 19902).
1. British Airways (2009). Cosmic Radiation. Retrieved from British Airways on 23rd Sept,2009
2. FAA Advisory Circular Radiation Exposure of Air Carrier Crewmembers - FAA AC 120-52. U.S. Department of Transportation. Retrieved from FAA Advisory Circular on 23rd Sept, 2009
3. Wikipedia (2009). Concorde. Retrieved from Wikipedia Concorde on 23rd Sept, 2009

Want to know more? Cosmic Radiation Protection of air crew from cosmic radiation: Guidance material Information on In flight Health including other inflight illness such as DVT, Jet Lag… : Visit the Official FAA website to find out more regulations regarding to Cosmic Radiation

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