Mesothelioma in Aircraft Mechanics

Quick Summary

Military and civilian aircraft mechanics are at risk of developing asbestos-related illnesses, including mesothelioma. Aircraft mechanics were routinely exposed to asbestos in the course of their daily jobs before 1990, and may still endure harmful exposure to this day.

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Aircraft Mechanics and Mesothelioma Explained

Aircraft mechanics maintain and fix broken planes, helicopters and other types of aircraft. Today, they are often referred to as “aircraft maintenance technicians” in the U.S., and “aircraft engineers” in Europe. Aircraft mechanics can focus on one or more specialties, including airframe components, powerplants (engines) and electrical avionics.

Within the U.S. military, aircraft mechanics ensure offensive and defensive aircraft remain in working order and can deploy at a moment’s notice.

Until the mid-1980s, asbestos was a common material used in the construction of new aircraft. Asbestos had many practical applications and was found in a range of mechanical parts, coatings and epoxies.

Asbestos exposure in aircraft mechanics came from the following asbestos-containing components:

  • Adhesives and epoxies
  • Aircraft brakes
  • Engines
  • Electrical systems
  • Insulation

When the asbestos in these components is disturbed, tiny particles can become airborne and be inhaled or ingested by aircraft mechanics and other nearby individuals. These particles get embedded into the body’s linings and can develop into mesothelioma, an often fatal form of cancer, over the course of several decades.

Many aircraft workers exposed to asbestos before the 1990s are only now receiving their unfortunate diagnoses. Honorable war vets who served their country during times of both war and peace are suffering from asbestos-related diseases, including mesothelioma, because of their occupational exposure.

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History of Asbestos Exposure in Aircraft Mechanics

Aircraft mechanics have been around since the dawn of flight, as the Wright Brothers employed a mechanic named Charlie Taylor to build their very first plane. By the 1920s, asbestos was being used as a desirable aircraft material due to its fireproof, insulating, lightweight and cost-effective qualities.

During World War II, aircraft production and maintenance ramped up, and asbestos became an everyday commodity.

Aircraft mechanics were in almost constant contact with asbestos. Not knowing what we do now, took no precautions to protect against the fibers that become airborne when disturbed.

In its heyday, asbestos was present on every military and civilian plane. Numerous types of aircraft used asbestos-containing materials including:

  • Bombers
  • Commercial airplanes
  • Fighter jets
  • Guidance systems and missiles
  • Helicopters
  • Spacecraft
  • Surveillance planes
  • Transport aircraft

Asbestos was also used in buildings and barracks, essentially surrounding some veterans 24 hours a day.

Did you know?

By the mid-1980s, the U.S. Air Force was well aware of the dangers of asbestos. However, the material was only phased out slowly, due to a lack of legal requirement to be proactive. Even today, imported parts used in American aircraft may contain asbestos.

Because airplanes are built to last, many asbestos-containing aircraft are still fully operational. These aircraft put today’s mechanics at risk of inhaling asbestos fibers and developing mesothelioma in the future. It’s critical that additional precautions are taken when working on any aircraft assembled before 1990.

Highest Risk Jobs For Asbestos Exposure in Aircraft Mechanics

Any Air Force aircraft mechanic employed before the 1990s is at an increased risk of developing mesothelioma. Many aircraft components contained asbestos, exposing mechanics as they performed their jobs. In addition to mechanical components, including brake and engine systems, the epoxies and glues used to repair aircraft also contained asbestos.

Aircraft mechanics who worked on U.S. Navy aircraft carriers are at an even higher risk of developing mesothelioma, due to the extensive use of asbestos on aircraft carriers.

Aircraft carriers are notorious for their high levels of asbestos use, as the ships used asbestos in insulation, pipes, wiring, walls, flooring, engine rooms and more. Aircraft mechanics who worked on airplanes on aircraft carriers were routinely exposed to two major known sources of mesothelioma.

While asbestos in the Air Force and Navy is a topic with much investigation and study, civilian aircraft also used many of the same or similar components. As a result, civilian aircraft mechanics are also at risk of developing asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma.

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  • Treatment Options
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  • Veterans Benefits

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Aircraft Mechanics and Asbestos Lawsuits

Aircraft mechanics who have developed mesothelioma due to exposure to asbestos have successfully been awarded compensation against asbestos product manufacturers. If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma as a result of your job as an aircraft mechanic, you may be able to receive financial compensation through the VA or private lawsuits.

Keep in mind that the development of mesothelioma often occurs 2-5 decades after initial exposure to asbestos. A diagnosis now could be the direct result of work you did in the distant past.

If you worked in an environment that routinely exposed you to asbestos, it’s essential you get screened for mesothelioma. Early diagnosis of mesothelioma has been directly linked to more positive outcomes.

Veterans Support Team
Christopher Dryfoos PhotoWritten by:

Contributing Author

Christopher Dryfoos is a journalist and member of the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA). As the grandson of the U.S. Navy’s first forensic pathologist, he aims to help veterans with mesothelioma access needed care.

View Sources

War Related Illnesses and Injury Study Center, “Exposure to Asbestos,” Retrieved from Accessed on 30 March 2018.

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