A public enquiry is needed into the extent of toxic cabin air and fume events on board passenger jets.

The demand is being made today by a union boss amid concerns over the impact on cabin crew and pilots.

The Unite union is currently supporting 51 high court actions against five UK airlines – easyJet, British Airways, Thomas Cook Airlines, Jet2 and Virgin Atlantic.

The legal cases follow independent expert evidence concluding that the air in most commercial airline cabins can cause irreversible neurological damage and chronic illness among susceptible individuals, according to the union.

The union-backed claims allege that expert medical evidence shows long term exposure to cabin air or to high dose ‘fume events’ can lead to pilots and crew members developing chronic ill health and life threatening conditions.

Unite assistant general secretary for legal affairs Howard Beckett will call on the airline industry to clean up its act by using safer oil to lubricate jet engines and fitting cabin air filters on board aircraft.

Speaking ahead of the International Aircraft Cabin Air Conference, which starts today in London, he said: “The airline industry cannot continue to hide from the issue of toxic cabin air whilst placing the health and safety of aircrew at risk. The cloak of silence must be lifted.

“Independent expert evidence concludes that air on board jet planes can contain a toxic mix of chemicals and compounds that potentially damage the nervous system and may lead to chronic irreversible health problems in susceptible individuals.

“We need a public inquiry into the extent of fume events and toxic cabin air.

“The airline industry must start to take responsibility and clean up the cabin air on jet planes by using safer oil to lubricate jet engines and fitting cabin air filters on board planes.”