Aircraft mechanics have long been known to be at higher risk for asbestos exposure because of the many parts and products installed in aircraft that contain asbestos.
Aircraft mechanics are responsible for the upkeep of commercial and military airplanes in the United States. Aircraft mechanics have been certified by the FAA to adjust, repair, diagnose and overhaul aircraft assemblies and engines. These duties include hydraulic and pneumatic systems. Some of their common tasks include changing brake pads, electrical components, aircraft batteries, and related aircraft equipment.
Aircraft mechanics play a critical role in safety, but those who worked in this field from the 1930s through the 1970s were at risk of asbestos exposure. Asbestos often was used to help in protecting against heat and fire in most airplanes in that era. The risk for exposure to asbestos for aircraft mechanics today is low, but it still may be a concern if the airplane was built before the 1980s.
Aircraft Mechanics Fast Facts (BLS.gov)
- National Employment: 136,900
- Similar Occupations: Aerospace engineering and operations technicians, automotive service technicians and mechanics, diesel service technicians and mechanics.
- Previously Exposed: yes
- Still Being Exposed: Less likely
- Asbestos-Related Disease Risk: Low
- States with the Highest Employment: Texas, California, Florida, Georgia, and Oklahoma
Aircraft Mechanics and Asbestos Exposure
Aircraft mechanics were exposed to many asbestos-containing products, including aircraft components. Before the 1980s, asbestos was in many vital airplane components, including electrical and engine insulation, asbestos blankets, brakes, cockpit heating components, engine heat shields, gaskets, and torque valves.
Asbestos also was found in repairing equipment before the 1980s in epoxies, adhesives, and related products.
Commercial and military aircraft mechanics’ exposure to the toxin was often because of direct handling of asbestos-containing components during repairs of aircraft. Asbestos was common in parts for its friction and heat resistance. But the greatest risk to mechanics was in brake repair; before the 1970s, most brake pads were made with asbestos. Replacing brake pads required pulling the parts back and forth, which would expose mechanics to asbestos.
Also, because of high heat from aircraft engines, aircraft mechanics would protect it and the test stand with blankets made from asbestos. These products can pose a risk when they are damaged over the years, or the fibers are burned by high heat. They also often handled gaskets in engines that contained asbestos, making their exposure worse.
Other tasks that increased the risk of asbestos exposure were installing insulation around aircraft engines and electrical parts. If an aircraft part were at risk of fire, it was probably insulated with materials that contain asbestos.
Scientific Studies Aircraft Mechanics Asbestos Exposure
A scientific study done in 2009 in Georgia found that asbestos exposure could occur during aircraft brake replacement. However, the levels of asbestos in brake parts is much lower than in the past, so the exposure risk is less than decades ago.
Aircraft Mechanic Asbestos & Mesothelioma Lawsuits
An ongoing case involves the family of a deceased aircraft mechanic named Gerald Bowser. His family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Parker-Hannifin Corp. after he died from mesothelioma. The lawsuit alleges that the man’s exposure to aircraft brakes that contained asbestos led to his disease.
Bowser was employed from 1965 to 1967 on several helicopters in Daytona Beach, Florida, where he may have been exposed to asbestos when changing parts. He also worked as a mechanic at a North Carolina airport in the early 70s where he installed several types of brake pads that contained asbestos.
Some of the manufacturers of aircraft components that contain asbestos were Cleveland Wheel & Brakes, Honeywell International/Bendix, Goodyear, and Goodrich. Also, Parker-Hannifin Corporation/Cleveland Wheel & Brakes has been sued by former workers for exposing them to asbestos as aircraft mechanics. Read more about brake pad dust exposure.