Let’s not beat about the bush: scientists have shown it is possible to resemble a character from the medieval soap opera Game of Thrones and still be a safe airline transport pilot.
Researchers from Simon Fraser University in Canada conducted trials of subjects who ranged from baby-faced youths to men who appeared to have eaten a bear and left its backside hanging out.
Bushy and relatively bare-faced men were tested using a modern positive-pressure pilot oxygen system while seated in a hypobaric chamber that reproduces the low air pressure of high-altitude flight. Their beards ranged from light stubble to 40 cm!
Beards have traditionally been regarded as an aviation hazard because it was thought they would interfere with the seal of an oxygen mask on a pilot’s face. The experiments found nothing of the sort. Air-minded hipsters are as safe as any other pilot, by this measure.
‘Beard length had absolutely no impact on the subjects’ oxygen saturation level,’ director of the university’s environmental medicine and physiology unit, Sherri Ferguson said.
A second test investigated whether bearded users would be sufficiently protected from smoke on the flight deck. The researchers sprayed an irritating stannic chloride vapour near subjects’ heads but neither bearded or clean shaven subjects were able to detect the gas when wearing the positive pressure mask.
‘We found no adverse effects on bearded subjects within the two parameters of our study,’ Ferguson said.
Air Canada, which commissioned the study, has relaxed its policy on aircrew beards, although it requires beards to a maximum of 12.5 mm in length and neatly trimmed, presumably to avoid passenger unease at the sight of Chewbacca-like figures entering and leaving the flight deck.
‘We changed our policy on facial hair following this study,’ Air Canada chief pilot Jay Musselman said.
CASA has no policy or regulations on facial hair. ‘It would be at employer discretion and is not a regulatory issue. It may be an issue where pilots have to wear personal protective equipment but that is mainly in a military setting,’ a CASA aviation medicine officer said.