Airline pilots and cabin crew members are consistently exposed to higher levels of ultraviolet radiation than the general population. This could explain why they face a significantly higher risk for developing melanoma. A comprehensive review of 19 study records involving more than 250,000 participants found that pilots and air crew have “twice the incidence of melanoma compared with the general population.”
Airline pilots at greater risk than cabin crew
Airline pilots in particular are vulnerable to higher occupational exposure to ultraviolet light. According to a study conducted by researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, in a one-hour flight at 30,000 feet, an airline pilot is exposed to as much ultraviolet radiation as they would be during a twenty minute session on a tanning bed. And according to the U.S. Department of Labor, airline pilots fly an average 75 hours per month, so the amount of UV radiation a pilot absorbs while working can really add up.
Laminated glass windshields in jet aircraft are efficient transmitters of the most damaging type of ultraviolet radiation – ultraviolet A (UVA or longwave). Glass windshields allow 54 percent of UVA to enter the cockpit. By contrast, polycarbonate windshields typically installed on general aviation propeller-driven aircraft block almost all UVA.
The higher the flight, the more UVA will pass through an airline windshield. At an altitude of 9,000 meters (where most commercial airlines fly), the UV level is twice that as on the ground. Flying over clouds or snow-covered landscapes reflects additional ultraviolet light through aircraft windshields and windows.
What can pilots and cabin crew do?
More research on the extent of the problem needs to be done. This is essential to justify the additional cost of requiring the use of UV-blocking materials in commercial aircraft windshields and windows.
In the meantime, airline pilots and cabin crew may wish to apply sunscreen before every flight. They should also get periodic skin checks for the signs of melanoma. The annual physical is a perfect time for a skin check, so make sure to mention this to your physician.
Airline pilots and cabin crew who develop occupational melanoma may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. If you have contracted melanoma, speak with an attorney concerning your claim.