Introduction: Ultraviolet radiation (UVR) increases with altitude; however, there are a number of other factors which may influence ocular exposure during flight. The aim of this study was to assess ocular UVR exposure of pilots in airline and off-shore helicopter operations on different aircraft types and to compare with exposure in a typical office environment.
Method: In-flight data were captured on equipment including a CCD array spectroradiometer on five return sector European airline flights and one transatlantic flight from London Gatwick in addition to four helicopter flights from Aberdeen Dyce airport. Further data were collected in an office environment from three workstations during summer and winter months.
Results: A wide variation in ocular UVA dose was found during flights. The main factor influencing exposure was the UVR transmission of the windshield, which fell into two distinct profile types. In an aircraft with good UVA blocking properties, ocular exposure was found to be equivalent to office exposure and did not exceed international guideline limits regardless of external conditions or flight time. Most aircraft assessed had poor UVA blocking windshields which resulted in an ocular exposure to the unprotected eye in excess of international guideline limits (up to between 4.5 to 6.5 times greater during one flight). No significant UVB dose was found.
Discussion: Pilots should be warned of the potential high UVA exposure during flight and advised on the use of sunglasses. A windshield labeling system would allow the pilot to tailor their eye protection practices to that particular aircraft.