Did you know that some pilots were not allowed to fly with beards?
Until very recently, that is.
Air Canada pilots can now fly with beards, according to a recent study by Simon Fraser University (SFU).
As of 2017, Air Canada and several other airlines required clean shaven faces for pilots.
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In Air Canada’s case, this was because men needed a clean-shaven face to ensure a proper seal on an oral-nasal facemask if there was an in-flight emergency.
Seeking to bust this myth, Sherri Ferguson, director of the Environmental Medicine and Physiology Unit at SFU, and her team were hired in 2016 to do some research.
There were two main goals here, according to SFU.
First, to assure whether current equipment on Canadian airlines delivered enough oxygen to protect a bearded pilot from hypoxia in case of an emergency cabin depressurization scenario.
Hypoxia is essentially a condition where the body doesn’t receive enough oxygen.
Then, the team assessed whether the oral-nasal mask provides enough protection against carbon monoxide in case of a smoke-filled cabin from a fire.
In the study, Ferguson and her team divided participants into three groups of men with different beard lengths, ranging from stubble of less than 0.5 cm in length, to medium-length beards, to long beards of up to 40 cm.
The participants were studied in a hypobaric chamber, which simulates a range of altitudes, from 10,000 to 25,000 ft. above sea level, wearing Air Canada’s face masks.
The study ultimately found that “beard length had absolutely no impact on the subjects’ oxygen saturation level”.
The masks remained tightly sealed for the duration of the tests, according to SFU.
“The policy was based on outdated research on obsolete equipment and testing on respirators not intended for aircrew oxygen delivery,” said Ferguson in the report.
“We found no adverse effects on bearded subjects within the two parameters of our study.”
In wake of this study, Air Canada has changed its policy on facial hair.
Pilots are now permitted to have a maximum beard length of 12.5 mm, neatly trimmed.
You can learn more here.