Face Mask Effects of CO2, Heart Rate, Respiration Rate, and Oxygen Saturation on Instructor Pilots

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Andrew R. Dattel
Nicola M. O'Toole
Guillermina Lopez
Kenneth P. Byrnes


The COVID-19 pandemic has required people to take new measures to mitigate the spread of the communicable virus. Guidelines from health organizations, government offices, and universities have been disseminated. Adherence to these guidelines cannot be more critical for flight training. This study explored the effects face masks had on CO2, heart rate, respiration rate, and oxygen saturation while wearing a face mask at an oxygen level simulated to 5,000 feet. Thirty-two instructor pilots (IP) volunteered to participate in the study. IPs spent 90 minutes in a normobaric chamber while wearing a cloth face mask or a paper face mask. Participants were measured before entering the chamber, at the 15-minute mark, at the 45-minute mark, at the 90-minute mark, and after exiting the chamber where they briefly removed their mask for a final measurement. No differences were found between type of face mask. Wearing face masks did not present any potential health or safety issues for the IPs. However, IPs did report moderate dislikes (e.g., comfort, issues with fatigue, restriction of movement) of wearing face masks. Although face masks may be a nuisance, it does not appear to create any health or safety issues at a simulated altitude of 5,000 feet.

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Author Biographies

Andrew R. Dattel, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

Dr. Dattel is an Assistant Professor in the School of Graduate Studies and the Director of the Cognitive Engineering Research in Transportation Systems (CERTS) Lab at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, FL. Dr. Dattel has a Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology, with a concentration in Human Factors. He also has an M.B.A in Aviation and an M.A. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology. Dr. Dattel is a flight instructor (CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI) and is a Certified Professional Ergonomist.

Nicola M. O'Toole, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

Professor O'Toole is an Assistant Proessor in the Department of Aeronuatical Science at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, FL. Professor O'Toole has a M.S. in Human Factors and Systems

Guillermina Lopez, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

Guille Lopez is a Registred Nurse at Embry-Riddle Aeronuatical University's Halth Services in Daytona Beach, FL.

Kenneth P. Byrnes, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

Dr. Byrnes is an Associate Professor of Aeronautical Science and Assistant Dean and Chair of the Flight Training Program at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical Univeristy in Daytona Beach, FL. Dr. Byrnes has a Ph.D. PhD in Business Administration with a dual specialization in Airline Management and Management of Engineering and Technology, as well as an M.B.A. in Aviation. He is a Certified Flight Instructor and holds a Commercial Pilot Certificate with Airplane Single-Engine Land, Multi Engine Land, and Instrument Ratings


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