I asked myself if flying at high altitude for many years has an effect on airline pilots.
Does something happens to the skin because of prolonged exposure to sun rays at a high-altitude? Ultraviolet rays have an effect on them?
I also asked myself if also the position or the intensity of the sun can create discomfort or make some operations dangerous or difficult, like during landing for example.
Everything began few days ago while I was in India on the highway between Gurgaon and Delhi that passes right beside Indira Gandhi Airport.
India has fantastic and unique sunsets that adds charm and mysticism to this country, but they can make life difficult for airline pilots.
The highway passes under the landing trajectory of the aircrafts. During sunset hour I saw an airplane landing with infornt of it this huge and low on the horizon orange ball.
Beautiful, but annoying!
And if it was annoying for me because of the intensity of the light I cannot imagine how it was for the pilots who did the complete landing with this ball in front of their eyes.
Charm aside, let’s see what is the effect of the sun on the pilots and how they can protect themselves.
Effect of the sun rays on the skin
Also when you go to the beach, the prolonged exposure to sun rays can create some problems on the skin.
From a simple burn up to cancer. It’s no joke and it is better to protect ourselves.
If this happens at sea level, what happens at high altitude?
Are sun rays different at high altitude?
Yes, there is a difference in the sun rays due to the different height in which we are.
The UV rays at high altitude are much stronger. It’s believed that for each 1,000 meters of height the UV increases by 10%.
If you go to the mountains during summer vacation you’ll see that if you don’t pay enough attention to the sun, you risks getting burnt much easier than when you are at the beach in Bahamas!
So pilots at 37,000 feet are exposed to very strong UV rays. So strong that they have the same dangerous level’s of the tanning beds in SPA’s.
Many studies have now demonstrated the link between melanoma and excessive exposure to UV rays.
People most at risk are those who live near the Equator, where sun rays are very strong, and those who use tanning beds.
Since one hour of flight at high altitude is equivalent to 20 minutes of tanning bed (exposing your skin to dangerous levels of UV rays), we can think that pilots are at risk.
How to protect ourselves from the light intensity
Like in the car, also airplanes have sun visors that help to protect the eyes from the intensity of the sunlight. It avoids being blinded, and it reduces the hassle.
In the car there are just two, one on each side, while on the airplane there are many more.
There are more windows and the light comes from many sides and from different angles, and this does not allow the pilots to read properly the instrumentation.
Pilots can move and adjust the position of the sun visors as they prefer.
Obviously, in addition to sun visors pilots always have sunglasses.
The intensity of the light derives not only from the sun but also from the reflection of light on the clouds. The whiteness that you see above the clouds after some time bothers the eyes.
What to do to protect ourselves better from the sun without risking losing our health when working?
Well, pilots are aware of what is happening. I doubt they use creams to protect the skin. There is not much one can do.
Let’s say that the NON-concern comes also from the fact that the pilots are not always and constantly exposed to sun rays.
However, there is a level of awareness of what I have already explained in this post regarding the effect of sun on the skin, but at the end, flying an airplane is still a job and brings with it risks like any other job.
And sun rays are the least of the risks when flying!