The United Arab Emirates General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) is calling on the and European regulators to install new technologies in cockpits and cargo holds on passenger and cargo aircraft to prevent onboard fires from disabling pilots and systems.
The recommendations are included in a 322-page final report on the September 2010 crash of a-400 freighter in Dubai. During climb out, a fire broke out on the main cargo deck, damaging flight control systems and filling the upper deck and cockpit with a continuous stream of smoke less than 3 min. after pilots received the first warning message.
Despite the smoke obscuring their vision, the two pilots attempted to return to theto land. The captain became incapacitated by an oxygen supply problem caused by the fire, and the first officer ultimately lost control and crashed 9 nm southwest of the airport. Both pilots were killed.
The U.S.and (EASA) assisted with the investigation, along with , UPS and the UPS pilots’ union.
In its conclusions, the GCAA stated that “a large fire” developed in the palletized cargo on the main deck “at or near pallet positions 4 or 5, in Fire Zone 3, consisting of consignments of mixed cargo including a significant number of lithium type batteries and other combustible materials.”
The uncontained fire caused the cargo compartment liners to fail, allowing heat to damage elevator control cables and other systems above the cargo hold, and “continuous toxic smoke” to enter the cockpit.
Investigators say the smoke obscured the pilots’ view of the primary flight instruments, audio control panels and the view outside the cockpit “which prevented all normal cockpit functioning.”
Included in the 35 recommendations, primarily directed at the FAA, EASA and ICAO, is a call for mandating “vision assurance devices” or other technology to help pilots see during emergencies with continuous smoke, fire and fumes in the cockpit. “This could include off-the-shelf devices or developing mask-mounted thermal-imaging cameras with the capability to see through smoke/fumes with sufficient clarity to view the primary cockpit instrumentation.”
The GCAA is also recommending active fire suppression systems for cargo holds, early warning detectors that identify the location of the fire to the crew, and video monitoring of cockpits to help with forensic investigations.
UPS, based on recommendations from the UPS Independent Pilots Association (IPA) safety task force, has already equipped its fleet of 13 Boeing 747s with emergency vision assurance systems (EVAS) that allow a pilot in an oxygen mask to see the instruments and view the windscreen through an inflatable pouch on the panel.
Other proactive improvements underway at UPS include the purchase of 1,821 fire-resistant shipping containers, capable of containing a fire with temperatures up to 1,200F for more than four hr. when combined with an active potassium-based aerosol fire suppressant. Deliveries of the containers start in September and will be complete by early 2014, though the FAA has not yet approved the fire suppression portion of the system.
The GCAA’s recommendations also call for smoke, fire and fumes training in a dedicated simulator or other full-immersion training device, as well as additional reviews of whether existing hazardous materials classifications for lithium batteries are adequate.