Air Canada pilots can now wear beards “to a maximum length of 12.5 millimetres and neatly trimmed,” thanks to a Simon Fraser University study that determined facial hair doesn’t get in the way of a tight seal on oxygen masks. The airline commissioned the university’s hyperbaric chamber to exhaustively test the widely accepted belief that whiskers are a safety hazard. “The policy was based on outdated research on obsolete equipment and testing on respirators not intended for aircrew oxygen delivery,” Sherri Ferguson, director of the Environmental Medicine and Physiology Unit at SFU said in her final report. “We found no adverse effects on bearded subjects within the two parameters of our study.”
One section of the study determined whether beards interfered with the delivery of oxygen through the masks. Three basic groups, those with stubble, with medium-length beards and those with bushy ones, and put them in the hyperbaric chamber in a simulated depressurization. All the subjects maintained safe levels of oxygen saturation in their blood regardless of the forest on their face. The other test simulated smoke in the cockpit with a chemical designed to irritate noses and throats and none of the subjects reported getting a whiff.