17th September, 2014

And still, not all pilots wear sunglasses.

A note from Alastair Carrie, Airline pilot and founder of Bigatmo sunglasses.

We’ve been banging on about the eye health issues faced by airline pilots for a while now, and so it was good to see one of the national newspapers write about it at the weekend.

I noticed in the article that no one from the airlines was prepared to make any comment at all. This is completely normal. Indeed, any comment on the range of health issues faced by pilots, are likely to be sidestepped by the airlines and aircraft manufacturers: organo-phosphate poisoning (from high pressure bleed air contaminated with engine oil), flight deck noise, uv and blue light and eye problems, cosmic radiation, fatigue etc. Obviously any problems that are confirmed as genuine are likely to be expensive and, in the super competitive airline environment, no one wants to be saddled with extra costs.

It makes more sense for airlines to spend money in order to show that there are no health issues – if you show that flight deck noise is within certain parameters you won’t need to supply active noise cancelling headsets – and so many don’t. The potential costs to airlines and aircraft manufacturers are massive, so it’s worth their while to spend money to demonstrate that no problems exist.

So, with no environmental improvements in prospect for current flight decks, I continue to be astounded by the number of pilots that I see who don’t wear sunglasses when flying. It’s nutty. Plenty of those who do, wear crappy ones. It staggers me that many people seem to be happy with something that came from a filling station or a “2 for 1” deal (or, of course, nothing at all). It’s going to be a battle but I’m determined to do my bit to help pilots protect their eyes.

We had a chap the other day, who chose to go down the 2 for 1 route using the same frame design as his reading glasses. The lenses are unlikely to have any meaningful technology – and can be damaging in some ways (normal spectacle frames generally offer poor coverage and allow more uv and high energy light to enter the dilated pupils from behind).  They cost less but are far from the best solution.

Other pilots buy fashion brands which often disappoint – more so when they’re expensive. Marketing can be clever and tell you what you want to hear, but doesn’t necessarily deliver. In fact some fashion brands used to be in the vanguard of technology and still market that heritage, even though it is no longer the case.

In summary; there are three groups of pilots whose opinion on sunglasses varies: 1) the people who do it right and  buy something that should really work, 2) those who appear not to care and won’t spend any money, and 3) those who worry about what they look like to the extent that fashion is more important than protection.

As pilots, we all know there are many health issues surrounding professional aviation, but not all of us are taking action. Pilots need to get a grip and realise that the issues are real and that they have to take action themselves where possible. Paying the money for good quality equipment shouldn’t be alien to professionals who might be looking at a forty five year career in aviation. It should be obvious that a good ANR headset and an excellent pair of sunglasses are essential.

I don’t even really accept the argument that because junior pilots are paid virtually nothing to fly the public in an airliner, that they should have to wait before buying these essentials. They have spent £100,000 – £130,000 getting qualified and so to spend another 1% on essential equipment is obviously going to be resisted when money is extremely tight. The importance of these items should be introduced by the training organisations (and probably subsidised by them too) – and then it would become a part of the cost of becoming qualified.

Established professional pilots have personal budgets and many won’t have much to spare – just like most people on the planet. It seems to me, though, that only a half-wit would ignore the evidence and penny pinch with these things. A few years ago pilots retired at 55 – now we work until 65, we fly more hours every year than ever before and we fly high where uv radiation is increasing by 12% per 1000 metres. Protecting yourself shouldn’t be a tricky decision. —————————————————————————————————————————– The article referred to can be found here in the Observer. Alastair Carrie set out to create the perfect pair of sunglasses for pilots. You will find them here at www.bigatmo.com