Air Pilots – Protect Your Hearing and Career from Hearing Loss

After sight, hearing is the most important sensory input for pilots. For a pilot, hearing is used to obtain critical information both during flight and when on the ground. Whether it’s listening to traffic control instructions or a co-pilot, or hearing auditory signals and alarms from the airplane control room, a pilot’s ability to hear is vital for his performance and the safety of his passengers.

Psychologic effects of excessive noise for pilots
– How excessive noise affects pilots

Pilots and Hearing Loss

Unfortunately, commercial and civil pilots spend many continual hours in extremely loud environments, which can be harmful to hearing unless the correct precautions are taken. This potentially means that the more a pilot flies, the higher the chances are that his hearing, and his career, could be damaged in the long term, as failure to meet hearing requirements will lose their certification to fly. According to the FFA (Federal Aviation Administration) daily exposure to noise levels over 90dB can result in hearing loss. Therefore, to enjoy a long and successful career as a pilot and to preserve good hearing, it’s absolutely vital that commercial and civil pilots protect their hearing. A full study of 89 commercial airline pilots and hearing loss can be found here.

Noise Levels in Aircrafts

The noise levels experienced in a cockpit differ greatly from aircraft to aircraft. For example, single engine aircrafts with engines and propellers mounted in the front have far noisier cockpits than a Boeing 747. Aircrafts with little or no noise insulation, such as motor gliders, are also extremely hazardous. Nevertheless, compared to common noise levels experienced in day to day life, the noise levels experienced by pilots on a regular basis are high, as can be seen in the graph below:

Sources of excessive noise in aviation

Source: FAA Pilot Safety Brochure

The source of noises in aviation is not limited to the engine. Transmission systems, jet efflux, propellers, rotors, cabin conditioning, pressurization systems and communication systems also contribute to an excessive noise environment.

Medical Examination for Pilot’s Hearing

The basic hearing test used throughout JAR-FCL 3 (Joint Aviation Requirements for Flight Crew Licensing) measures the ability to hear conversational speech when tested with each ear at a distance of 2 metres from, and with the back turned towards, the Aviation Medical Examiner. This is the required basic test for both commercial and civil pilots. A further audio test called the audiogram is required for professional pilots. More information on medical examinations for pilots in the UK and US can be found on the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) and FAA sites respectively.

Hearing Protection for Pilots

Fortunately, there are a number of hearing devices that can protect a pilot from excessive noise and hearing loss, namely ear plugs, ear muffs, communication headsets or active noise reduction headsets. However, when choosing hearing protection it’s vital to ensure that these devices reduce noise levels without hampering the ability hear verbal communications, alarms and the familiar operational noises of the aircraft clearly. Thus, specialised ear plugs, communication headsets, noise reduction headsets, or a combination of devices, is recommended.

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