Qantas has deployed an interim solution to problems with water leaks on its A380 fleet while Airbus develops a permanent fix, an Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) incident report reveals.

The issue first arose in July when a Qantas A380 (VH-OQD) that had just departed Los Angeles for Melbourne had to return to Los Angeles when the cabin crew discovered that 40% of the potable water on board—185 gallons—had leaked from a disconnected water pipe coupling just above the floor in the business class galley on the top deck. Although the crew was able to switch off the system, the spilled water moved rearward, drained through the upper deck floor and was “raining” on passengers seated near Row 65 of the main deck as it flowed toward bilges, according to ATSB’s final report on the incident.

The pilots, in contact with Qantas maintenance watch ground staff, decided there were no safety-of-flight issues, but elected to return to Los Angeles given that the water to the toilets and sinks was not available with the main switch off, making it “untenable to continue a 14-hr. flight.” 

Source Discovered

The crew also switched off the in-flight entertainment system and power to the seats as a precaution when the leak was discovered. 

“Leakage of that quantity of water had not occurred previously, and the eventual impact of the water on the aircraft was unknown,” the ATSB wrote. After dumping some fuel, the crew transitioned to a relatively nose-high, slow-speed descent after the initial descent profile had caused the spilled water to begin moving forward along the floor.

A mechanic testing the same coupling on another A380 that was scheduled for the flight from Los Angeles to Melbourne the next day observed the same problem, but with less water leaking. 

“The engineers attempted to dry out the leaked water in the cabin, resulting in the aircraft arriving about one hour late at the departure gate,” the ATSB explained. 

Despite the clean-up attempt, “some water came down from the overhead bins in the main deck” during the takeoff run, but it was “similar to that normally arising from condensation and not considered to be significant,” the ATSB added. The flight continued to Melbourne.

Rope-Style Mops

An initial inspection on the A380s revealed that the couplings were likely being unlatched by rope-style mops that cleaners had been using in the galley area. 

“Fleet-wide inspection of the fittings found strands of cleaning mops tangled in the brackets,” said the ATSB, “with evidence of couplings rotated in opposing directions.”

Qantas, in consultation with Airbus, initially wrapped the couplings with aluminum tape to protect the joint, and changed cleaning procedures so that sponge-style mops would be used under galley bench areas. 

The ATSB said Qantas also planned in mid-September to install lock-wire to “prevent the clamp from coming adrift” while Airbus developed a permanent fix.

The ATSB commended the Qantas crew that had aborted its flight to Melbourne for “excellent” crew resource management techniques during the “abnormal and unusual situation.”