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Home > Medical > Do airline pilots get sunburn in long haul flight?
Do airline pilots get sunburn in long haul flight?
Flying - Medical
Tuesday, 10 March 2015 13:52

On Ultra Violet (UV) Rays

Hi Captain Lim,

How are you? I have a question:

Do airline pilots get sunburn in long haul flight? If yes, then how do they protect themselves?

Finally, does the windshield of newer aircraft (eg: Boeing 777, 747-8) block out more UV radiation?

I read that flying, especially at high altitude, can increase the risk of skin cancer significantly. But, I also know that windshield is laminated and has a vinyl inter-layer that should block out most UV rays (both type A and B). Unfortunately, UV intensity does increases with height..

Please correct me if I am wrong.

I appreciate your opinion.

Thank you

Hon SC, (PPL student)

Hi Hon,

It is true that airline pilots are more prone to ultra violet (UV) radiation than the average man in the street. This is part of the occupational hazard of being an airline pilot !

A study (as published in JAMA Dermatology Journal) has found that spending 56 minutes behind the control in the cockpit at 30,000 feet is the equivalent of 20 minutes laid out on an average strength sunbed.

As such, pilots may be at risk from skin cancer by chronic exposure to UV rays and the levels could be higher when pilots are flying over thick clouds and snow fields, which can reflect UV radiation.

Further, airplane windshields do not completely block out UV-A radiation and therefore are not enough to protect pilots.

In fact all cockpit windows have sunscreens. Whenever I flew, the sunscreens are always pulled down to shield off the sun light.

As you have mentioned, UV lights are of two types - UVA and UVB. UVA rays cause premature aging and can pass through window glass, while UVB rays cause sunburn and cannot pass through window glass. UVA (long-wave) rays penetrate the skin and eyes more deeply than UVB (shortwave) rays.

UVA rays do not cause immediate or noticeable effects such as sunburn; hence many pilots are generally unaware of the damage that is slowly occurring. As such it is important for pilots to do regular skin check on themselves.

Pilots can generally protect themselves by:-

• Use of sunscreen or moisturizer/lotion in the cockpit
• Wear long sleeve shirts or sweater during cruise to cover up more exposed skin
• Wear sunglasses with UVA and UVB protection

So it appears that the friendly skies may be a little harsh on a pilot’s skin !

Getting sunburnt on a cloudy day


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