updated 2/11/2004 6:24:00 PM ET 2004-02-11T23:24:00

The Federal Aviation Administration isn’t doing enough to find out whether people are more likely to catch the flu or other diseases when they fly, a congressional report said Tuesday.

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The report by the General Accounting Office recommended more research into the health effects of the dry, recirculated air inside commercial airplanes.

Many suspect that airplane air causes upper respiratory illnesses.

"It would be hard to find an airline passenger who has never come down with a cold or a sore throat and runny nose after flying," Rep. Peter DeFazio, the Oregon Democrat who requested the report, said in a statement.

In 2001, a scientific panel recommended that the FAA collect more data about cabin air. The FAA agreed to lead a research program to determine the accuracy of perceptions that air circulated inside airplanes causes discomfort or illness.

The GAO, Congress’s investigative arm, said in its report that the FAA’s research plans are too limited.

"FAA has not yet developed a detailed plan with key milestones and funding estimates for conducting the planned surveillance and research program," the report said.

FAA spokeswoman Alison Duquette said past research has generally shown that airplane air is cleaner than the air in most homes and offices.

The FAA, though, is funding several studies, including one to monitor air inside passenger aircraft cabins.

"It’s a recurring concern that passengers and flight attendants have," Duquette said. "We are pursuing doing actual data collection aboard aircraft."

Currently, about 85 percent of large airliners use hospital-grade filters — called high-efficiency particulate air filters — which health experts say is the best way to protect passengers from viruses and bacteria, the report said. A smaller percent of planes that carry fewer than 100 passengers use the filters, the GAO said.

The FAA doesn’t require air filters, nor does it track whether planes have them.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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