Boeing Flight Ops Bulletin - Summary & Critique


1.      Since Sep 98 Boeing has been re-examining MD11 design and operation (incl smoke procedures). Company is unsure which procedures sr111 crew used but has decided to review existing procedures and offer alternatives (because several operators [KLM?] have requested that they should do so).

 2.       Smk?Elec/Air switch (SEAsw) was designed to consolidate and  fulfil the multi-step procedure in use in the DC-10 (which was almost totally an FE drill).

 3.        If an electrical fault produces a fire, isolation and powering down the source will not necessarily extinguish the fire. The SEAsw can be used to isolate electrical components in groupings but cannot be used to prevent all the possible hazards that may result from electrical short-circuiting.

 4.        Depending upon the severity of smoke or fumes the (Smoke & Fume) checklist, if done properly may take thirty minutes or more due to the requirement to pause and allow results to become evident. If crews go through the SEAsw positions too quickly the source of the problem will go undetected. However conversely, the longer the time spent in any one position, the longer it will take for other potential sources to be isolated. Boeing offers no solution to this conundrum. Must liaise with cabin crew for down the back problems. Flt crew must be aware that, if a significant short-circuit has occurred, complete isolation of a bus may not be possible (undesirable NOT to be able to turn off a bus). So individual item's CB's may have to be pulled - depending upon whether or not the individual circuit (that's misbehaving) can be identified.

 5.       If the a/c is in a position of being able to land ASAP (Boeing's preferred solution) then switching off all generators and opening all bus-ties would revert to the EMERG BUS (very basic stuff only on that - no ability to fly in IMC or at night). ADG could be deployed in electrical mode to sustain the battery. (This assumes, quite optimistically, that the battery hasn't been taken out via a dead short). However Boeing is loathe to yet formally publish or actually propose this alternative course of action as it would make matters very complex for crews in deciding which is the most appropriate course (i.e. they'd have to get a phone-patch to a retired Flt Eng who had indepth systems knowledge). ?  "The list of variables is too great for the manufacturer to be able to develop one single procedure that would be the best for all possible scenarios". Let's hear it for the wonderful FE replacement known as the system's controllers then. Hip Hip Hooray! What a nonsense fiasco. Pilots must use their knowledge and best judgement in any given situation to determine the best course of action. (it's at this point that Military pilots are told they should eject).


6.      However, as a supplement to the existing Flight Crew Operating Manual here's the best advice that the Boeing Company can give.

  1. If the fire's down the back, switch off the Cabin Bus (existing first step of the second checklist). If it's associated with the Cabin Bus (30% chance) that should fix it.


  1. Before using any of the alternative procedures (eg mid-oceanic) consider Navigation, communication, fuel dumping and lighting requirements first (or you may go very deep, dark and silent and disappear off the face of the earth)



  1. Use every available resource to determine if the fire exists, just where is it or what the source of smoke & fumes is (rather obligatory and challenging existing step)


  1. Determine if an emergency landing is necessary. If so, don't waste time dumping fuel. Overweight landings are OK, field length and stopping (precariously minus auto-braking, spoilers and landing lights also at the higher weight) is the main consideration. But even then pilots must consider whether they'd rather be on the ground – or in the air.


  1. If there is actually a fire it must be dealt with ASAP (they don't anywhere mention the most important point for aircrews: Get the power off the Kapton and don't reset the CB's). There follows a most basic discussion about deciding who will fly, who will fight fire, who will talk on radio etc, must delegate, one person cannot do it all etc. Paints a desperate picture of trying to stay afloat in a sea of fire.



  1. Determining the governing factors (incapacitating smoke? dense smoke with nil visibility? Is it simply an overheating component?) Anytime smoke is detected and source cannot be immediately detected/positively identified a/c should be landed immediately or ASAP.


  1. Consider fire damage and loss of function of some services and equipments. These losses may not be apparent until you come to make a selection. "and the indications may vary with time." (don't really understand what they mean by this? Clock may stop?). Re-states that LAND ASAP is the only recommended solution.


  1. Review of all previous in-service smoke incidents confirms that the majority could have been controlled by the existing procedure. A predictable claim but modified by…. However, circumstances associated with specific events might require that a flight crew use judgment in applying modified procedures. (sounds like a bet both ways)


  1. Boeing considers that the industry should consider issues that have been raised in the aftermath of SR11 (but do not specify what). Crews must be given sound advice about how to analyze specific situations and use their judgement, each situation will be different and canned solutions are not possible. (translates as "wiring can create havoc and we just don't know what to say about that, so we thought we'd just generalize and let you fill in the spaces - you know, use your imagination). But anyway, so's you know what we're generally on about, here are some topics to mull over:


(i)                  Training programs for fighting inflight fires. Seek guidance from professionals. (real throwaway stuff this). No mention of pilots using hand-held fire-extinguishers.

(ii)                Are inflight fires different from ground fires? Should cabin altitude be raised to starve fires of oxy? (nil significant effect at all I would suggest)

(iii)               Consider using cabin crew in the cockpit (in the absence of a FE)

(iv)              Do crews have a fire plan? Designate a fire marshal (huh?) (after it starts it's too late) [ bit of a waste of space. If it's not in the checklist or SOP's, crews are unlikely to standardize across an airline]. Maybe they could offer passengers frequent flier points to participate in the fire-fighting effort (instead of panicking and invading the cockpit).


Boeing intends to forward the above recommendations to the appropriate agencies.


Summary: (By IASA Australasia)

The DC-10 was always a three-man show and the re-systemed MD10 is simply a make-over of the DC-10 to this dubious MD-11 standard (in order to eliminate the third man). Tom Melody is presently the overseer test pilot on that project. I'll bet he's had a lot of post-sr111 second-thoughts about it. Cathay had a quiet ceremony last month, before the pilots' dispute, that saw off their very last Flight Engineer. They are now a dead (not dying) breed. The residue fly in B727's, Classic B747's, L1011's and DC-10's (only) in regular airline service. The Flight Engineer knew 'his' aircraft. Captains and First Officers don't have any in-depth tech knowledge. They are operators only. That's the real regret about the passing of the FE.


However the Document talks about pilots using their systems knowledge to work their way through the intricacies of "recommendations" that have essentially reverted to a manualization of the smoke procedure. i.e. they expect the pilots to utilize all the knowledge and complex procedures (once familiar to the FE and in his province exclusively) to cope with the deficiencies now manifestly obvious in the MD-11's systems controllers. You know, the computerized gadgets that were supposed to offload the pilots by automatically coping with system's outages. And the pilots are expected to do all this now (the three-man task) whilst still tied umbilically to their seats.  Bloody impossible, and that's why the aircraft will more than likely end up in Peggy's Cove or a borough of Greater London or a precinct of New York - whilst overloaded pilots attempt to cope with an imponderable task. And just how are China Air and KAL going to make out? That would be truly in the lap of the Gods. Relying upon the system's controllers during an arc-tracking event is like putting your faith in a fire engine that is itself on fire (I'm sure you'd have heard that one before). I think the real reason why Boeing is very reluctant to actually endorse the "alternative" procedure is that it would be a tacit admission of all that I have said - as well as a pointer to the desperate need for a proper Virgin Bus. The difference is that a design Virgin Bus would give true electrical redundancy and a life-saving fall-back position - whilst their proposal here (Emergency bus off the battery) is the classic "straw to a drowning man". (hardly a viable alternative - and certainly no real option when you're mid-Pacific on a dark and rainy night).


Boeing's attempts at a solution here simply highlights what a nightmare the MD11, in its original conception, has become. No wonder they've decided to cease production. After reading this document you wouldn't be happy about sending your family off across the ocean in a two-man MD11 - I think not. For me, that is the bottom line. They should all be converted to freighters and give the remaining Flight Engineers a carry-on career. The MD11's are excellent freighters, quite capacious and very fuel efficient. Most of the MD-10's will thankfully not carry pax (but some will). That MD-10 flight-test program will end in late 2002.


You are correct in assuming that the document is as valuable for what it doesn't say. The exclusions merely demonstrate what an agony they must have gone through deciding what to include and what to exclude whilst still making it a meaningful guide for pilots. It

Is a desperate attempt to reconcile the post sr111 facts with continued operation of the MD11 in airline passenger-carrying service. I think that that is really their Achille's Heel. It is NOT actually airworthy under any concept of airworthiness - as a two man crewed aircraft (under these amended guidelines). If this was the best Boeing could come up with after 10 months deliberations, it only goes to show how cornered they are on the whole subject of survivability of a two-man crew in a Kapton-ridden MD11 smoker.

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