‘Toxic’ cabin air: partial legal victory for sick KLM pilot

At 18 September 2013 the Amsterdam Court gave a ruling in a toxic cabin air case that can be of imporance to  the airline industry.

A KLM-pilot claims that it was repeated exposure to contaminated air that rendered him unfit to fly. The pilot asked for an order to continue sick payment in summary proceedings, claiming that he suffers from a neurological illnesses as a result of exposure to toxic cabin air, more particular TriCresylPhosphate (TCP). This part of the claim was dismissed. At this stage there is no evidence that supports the existance of a toxic cabin air syndrome. No doctor has diagnosed the claimed neurological illness. According to the information available at the hearing the pilot merely was diagnosed with stress related headaches.

The interesting part of the decision is that the pilot also asked the cour to order KLM to ask for an independent research of the in-flight TCP levels, and the court followed the pilot here. Based on the rules of ‘good employership’, KLM should indeed ask for an independent investigation. More specifically, KLM has been ordered to hire an independent research institute to measure the TCP levels in KLM’s 737 aircraft cabins. KLM will have to see to it that the pilot may discuss the questions to be researched with the independent surveyor. The research shall start within one month and the results should be available ultimately seven weeks later. If KLM fails to comply with the court order it will forfeit a penalty of EUR 1,000.00 per day, with a maxium of EUR 50,000.00.


The reason why the judge ordered for a specific research into cabin air quality in KLM 737’s is that the actual levels depend on various circumstances, amongst which the type and maintenance of the aircraft. Based thereon, the judge held that KLM, as an employer, should measure the actual levels aboard the 737’s it operates. This is a bit strange as in the decision there is mention that before becoming ill the pilot flew a McDonnell Douglas 11, but we assume that he will be scheduled to fly 737’s.

An interesting issue is that the judge has established that there are no formal  TCP thresholds established by toxicologists, so what is the use of measuring? In the decision the judge suggests that it is subsequently to KLM to establish whether the measured levels may indeed have had effect on the helth of the individual pilot. This is also a bit strange, as in the decision it is also established that no doctor can diangose the toxic cabin air syndrome, as the syndrome is not reconized as a desease in the Netherlands. My guess is that if the measured levels are in accordance with the state of the industry, no further action by KLM can be claimed, that is until international developments force airlines to take further steps.

The decision has been published in Dutch at rechtspraak.nl.



Print This Page Print This Page

Dutch Bar Association Official partner of Erasmus School of Law