Air Canada pilots who want to sport a beard can thank Simon Fraser University for now having the permission to do so.
A study done in the school’s hypobaric chamber has led to Air Canada’s decision to waive the long-standing rule, which required pilots to have a clean-shaven face.
The reason was that in the case of an in-flight emergency, a clean-shaven face was necessary to ensure a proper seal on an oral-nasal facemask.
In 2016, however, SFU set out to determine whether present-day safety equipment on planes could deliver sufficient oxygen to protect a bearded pilot from hypoxia during a depressurization scenario.
The SFU team also needed to find out whether the mask provides sufficient protection against carbon monoxide should the cabin fill with smoke from a fire.
For the study, participants were divided into three groups: those with a small amount of facial hair such as stubble (less than 0.5 centimetres in length), those with medium-sized beards and those with long beards (up to 40 cm).
They were put through a number of tests wearing Air Canada masks at a variety of altitudes and it was found that the beards didn’t hinder people in emergency situations.
“The policy was based on outdated research on obsolete equipment and testing on respirators not intended for aircrew oxygen delivery,” explained Sherri Ferguson, who headed up the study.
“We found no adverse effects on bearded subjects within the two parameters of our study.”
As a result, Air Canada has now changed their policy and will allow pilots to sport a beard within reason.
“We changed our policy on facial hair following this study to permit it to a maximum length of 12.5 mm and neatly trimmed,” said Jay Musselman, senior director and chief pilot at Air Canada.
With this groundbreaking study from SFU complete, other airlines will surely follow suit and change their policy like Air Canada has done.