Why Pilots Don’t Like to Fly Near the Poles

Commercial airline pilots have various factors to consider when it comes to deciding which flights to take on a given day. They may look into factors such as their commitments at home, their health profile, any important appointments, etc. However, not many people know that commercial airline pilots also look at another crucial factor, which is ionizing radiation present in the upper atmosphere. When commercial aircrafts fly at cruising altitude, airline employees in the plane are exposed to ionizing radiation. Studies indicate that UV rays from the sun and cosmic radiation in the upper atmosphere is almost 100 times more powerful that what we experiencenear earth’s surface.

What happens when flying near the poles?

Planet earth has a natural magnetic field that protects us from the harmful rays of sun and the ionizing radiation coming from the cosmos. However, this magnetic field weakens at the poles – both North Pole and South Pole. A normal trip around the world in a commercial aircraft will expose a pilot to radiation levels that are almost equal to undergoing a single X-Ray. Studies have shown that even X-Rays can be harmful, if someone is exposed to them on a regular basis. The problem becomes more acute at the poles, because radiation near the poles is three times more potent than flying over other parts of the world. This is why pilots are wary of flying near the poles. For example, if you give pilots a choice, they would prefer flying to Delhi or Singapore instead of flying to Los Angeles or San Francisco.

Pilots are facing high risks

As per a report published by the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements, airline employees are exposed to radiation levels that are higher than the radiation levels faced by engineers working in nuclear power plants. The aviation industry is aware of these risks faced by airline pilots, but nothing much has been done to help the airline employees.

What can be done?

Flying near the poles cannot be avoided since several of the world’s leading cities are located near the poles. And technology is still not advanced enough to enable pilotless commercial aircrafts. The best option is to change the schedule of pilots, so that no single pilot is required to fly repeatedly near the poles. This way, the radiation load can be shared evenly among the pilots of a specific airline. Pilots also need to undergo regular health checkups, so that any radiation related health issues can be proactively identified and treated.


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