An Airbus A330-300 IFE Fire Blazes Up
AIRBUS IFE FIRE

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Plane fires linked to video systems
 
By Larry Pynn
The Calgary Herald
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A video-entertainment system caught fire aboard an Air Canada Airbus passenger jet parked at Vancouver International Airport last year, drawing a frightening parallel to a Swissair disaster off Nova Scotia that killed all 229 people on board in 1998.

The Vancouver fire, which occurred 40 minutes before passengers were set to board, has spurred a series of safety directives related to the replacement of faulty components and the installation of special switches to cut electrical power to entertainment systems.

The in-charge flight attendant aboard the Airbus A330-300 on Jan. 17, 2002, shut off the power switch to the forward-galley entertainment system at the first sign of trouble.

But two internal six-volt batteries continued to power the system while completing a systematic shutdown, giving new life to the smouldering fire.

Details of the fire are contained in a federal transportation safety board report concluded in January, but seen for the first time this week.

"It powers itself for two minutes even after it's shut down," said regional safety board manager Bill Yearwood. "That's the concern. The crew wasn't aware of the intricacies of the system."

Fortunately, the Vancouver incident occurred on the ground and the flight attendant managed to put out the blaze using a halon fire extinguisher.

However, the circumstances are hauntingly reminiscent of the crash of a Swissair MD-11 aircraft off Peggy's Cove. A federal report being released today into that crash is expected to point to a fire in the wiring of the entertainment system as a possible cause.

"There are a lot of concerns about flight entertainment systems," said Yearwood. "The issue is that these systems may not be as stringently scrutinized as normal aircraft components."

The Passport entertainment system that caught fire aboard the Airbus in Vancouver had been repaired by manufacturer Rockwell Collins Inc. of Pomona, Calif., three times over the preceding three months.

The U-18 component is used in 539 processing boards in Passport systems aboard 27 aircraft worldwide.

As a direct result of the Airbus fire, Rockwell Collins issued a number of service bulletins requiring airlines to replace defective U-18 components built before July 2000.

Airbus is also issuing its own service bulletins ordering the installation of a main power switch for all Passport systems aboard A330 and A340 aircraft.

Air Canada is complying with the bulletins, said the safety board report.

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Narrative:
40 minutes prior to departure, Air Canada aircraft C-GFAF (Airbus A330-300) was at the departure gate with pilots and inflight crew on board. The in charge flight attendant reported that the video display unit was on fire. An audio/video technician was resetting the system at the time. The technician used a halon fire extinguisher to extinguish the fire. The Vancouver Airport fire department was called and attended. There were no passengers on board at the time. The video unit was removed from the aircraft. The aircraft departed 37 minutes late with no further incident. TSB will attend an inspection of the effected unit and tests of others (Rockwell collins SMU part number 970-0029-005).
TSB Occurrence No.: A02P0010
Cadors Number: 2002P0033
Occurrence Date: 2002/01/17

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Airbus fire sparks safety measures
Air Canada blaze circumstances reminiscent of Swissair disaster
 
Larry Pynn
Vancouver Sun
CREDIT: Glenn Baglo, Vancouver Sun
 
Bill Yearwood of the Transportation Safety Board.
 
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A video-entertainment system caught fire aboard an Air Canada Airbus passenger jet parked at Vancouver International Airport last year, drawing a frightening parallel to the Swissair disaster off Nova Scotia that killed all 229 people on board in 1998.

The Vancouver fire, which occurred 40 minutes before passengers were set to board, has spurred a series of safety directives related to the replacement of faulty components and the installation of special switches to cut electrical power to entertainment systems.

The in-charge flight attendant aboard the Airbus A330-300 on Jan. 17, 2002, shut off the power switch to the forward-galley entertainment system at the first sign of trouble.

However, two internal six-volt batteries continued to power the system while completing a systematic shutdown, giving new life to the smouldering fire.

Details of the fire are contained in a federal transportation safety board report concluded in January but obtained for the first time by The Vancouver Sun this week.

"It powers itself for two minutes even after it's shut down," regional safety board manager Bill Yearwood confirmed in an interview from his Richmond office. "That's the concern. The crew wasn't aware of the intricacies of the system."

Fortunately, the Vancouver incident occurred on the ground and the flight attendant managed to put out the blaze using a halon fire extinguisher while it was contained to the entertainment system.

However, the circumstances are hauntingly reminiscent of the crash of a Swissair MD-11 aircraft off Peggy's Cove. A federal report being released today into that crash is expected to point to a fire in the wiring of the entertainment system as the possible cause.

"There are a lot of concerns about flight entertainment systems," said Yearwood. "The issue is that these systems may not be as stringently scrutinized as normal aircraft components."

The P@ssport entertainment system that caught fire aboard the Airbus in Vancouver had been repaired by manufacturer Rockwell Collins Inc. of Pomona, Calif., three times over the preceding three months.

In October 2001, the processing board that included a faulty U-18 switching regulator was replaced. In November, the system was returned to Rockwell Collins after it started to smoke. In December, it was returned once more and another processing board installed.

The U-18 component is used in 539 processing boards in P@ssport systems aboard 27 aircraft worldwide, the report said.

In August 2001, the Federal Aviation Administration in the U.S. had issued a series of airworthiness directives ordering the installation of power switches on entertainment systems that could not be completely powered off.

But those directives did not extend to the P@ssport system or the Airbus model that caught fire in Vancouver.

As a direct result of the Airbus fire, Rockwell Collins issued a number of service bulletins requiring airlines to replace defective U-18 components built before July 2000, said the safety board report.

Airbus is also issuing its own service bulletins ordering the installation of a main power switch for all P@ssport entertainment systems aboard A330 and A340 aircraft.

Air Canada is complying with the bulletins, said the safety board report.

Angela Mah, spokesman for Air Canada in Vancouver, said there are eight Airbus A330-300 aircraft in the company's fleet, each with a capacity of 292 passengers.

She could not immediately provide specifics on the number of passengers scheduled to board the plane that caught fire or its destination, but confirmed it is Air Canada policy to act on all safety bulletins.

The fallout from these incidents is affecting at least one Vancouver-based charter operator.

Brent Statton, general manager for HMY Airways, said Transport Canada ordered the company to deactivate the entertainment systems aboard two Boeing 757 aircraft brought into Canada last fall until they meet safety concerns. In the meantime, the company has been flying to destinations as far afield as Mexico and Britain without in-flight movies.

"The concern has arisen from the incident in Nova Scotia," Statton confirmed. "True, some customers are disappointed a movie is not available. But the most important thing is safety."

Transport Canada officials refused to talk about the issue of aircraft entertainment systems pending release of the Swissair report.

© Copyright 2003 Vancouver Sun
 
 

A Listing of IFE Fire Events 1998-2001
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