Tuesday, March 4, 2008


Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless and odorless gas produced by all internal combustion engines. Since it attaches itself to the hemoglobin in the blood about 200 times more easily than oxygen, carbon monoxide prevents the hemoglobin from carrying oxygen to the cells, resulting in hypemic hypoxia. It can take up to 48 hours for the body to dispose of carbon monoxide. If the poisoning is severe enough, it can result in death. Aircraft heater vents and defrost vents may provide carbon monoxide a passageway into the cabin, particularly if the engine exhaust system has a leak or is damaged. If a strong odor of exhaust gases is detected, assume that carbon monoxide is present. However, carbon monoxide may be present in dangerous amounts even if no exhaust odor is detected. Disposable, inexpensive carbon monoxide detectors are widely available. In the presence of carbon monoxide, these detectors change color to alert the pilot of the presence of carbon monoxide. Some effects of carbon monoxide poisoning include headache, blurred vision, dizziness, drowsiness, and/or loss of muscle power. Anytime a pilot smells exhaust odor, or any time that these symptoms are experienced, immediate corrective actions should be taken. These include turning off the heater, opening fresh air vents and windows, and using supplemental oxygen, if available.

Tobacco smoke also causes carbon monoxide poisoning. Smoking at sea level can raise the CO concentration in the blood and result in physiological effects similar to flying at 8,000 feet. Besides hypoxia, tobacco causes diseases and physiological debilitation that are medically disqualifying for pilots.

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