Cosmic Radiation - What Risk Does it Pose to Flyers

Everyday of our lives we are exposed to cosmic radiation from outer space although the earth’s atmosphere usually protects us by providing a barrier against most of the harmful effects of this radiation.

When on board an airborne aircraft, passengers and crew are denied much of the protection of the earth’s atmosphere as it is below them. The thinner layer that remains above them can not offer the same level of protection as it is thinner.

The aircraft most affected by this type of radiation was Concorde as she flew at higher altitudes, where the atmosphere was even thinner. Of course, Concorde is now no longer in service.

We know that radiation levels at altitude can be as much as 300 times higher than those found at sea level. The problem we have with this information is that no-one yet really knows what it all means.

One thing about which scientists are confident is that passengers who fly infrequently are unlikely to suffer any health problems as a result of exposure to cosmic radiation. The short exposure time and the lack of repeated exposure ensures that there is no build up of radiation effect.

What is not known or fully understood is the long term effect of cosmic radiation on frequent flyers and crew, who may be exposed to these higher levels of radiation on a daily or weekly basis.

When considering cosmic radiation as a flying health risk other factors must be considered. The daily use of microwave ovens in homes generates radiation as does the use of mobile telephones. We are subjected to radiation from numerable sources on a daily basis and there is no evidence from studies carried out thus far that cosmic radiation has increased health problems in flyers.

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