An airline industry report dated Jan. 22 reveals
that a taping unit related to the entertainment
system on board an Airbus A320 gave off
"sufficient heat to cause burning of the
insulation blanket above."
The report states
that the temperature was so intense that the
unit, much like a VCR, showed signs of heat
It doesn't appear there was a fire around the
unit, but some aviation consultants say the
incident has disturbing similarities to the
chain of events that led to the crash of a
Swissair MD-11 jetliner into the ocean off Nova
Scotia in 1998, killing all 229 people on board.
"Five years later here is a similar kind of
problem identified, visible and there's lack of
replacement," Alex Richman, whose company
AlgoPlus Consulting analyses aviation data for
aircraft operators, said in Halifax.
"Here's a unit that has electrical problems
causing smoking and damage to the insulation
while the plane is 30,000 feet in the air.
The report also states that the troublesome
unit is being replaced on the A320, but that the
supply of modified ones has been slow.
The modifications come after an earlier
incident in which the taping unit again
short-circuited and heated the insulation on the
plane, both thought to be operated by Skyservice.
Skyservice officials were not available to
"Only seven units have been made available on
an exchange basis to date, which is half the
quantity required for the aircraft," states the
report, which was prepared for the U.S.
Federal Aviation Administration
world's top aviation regulator.
Inflight entertainment systems have come
under heavy scrutiny since investigators
discovered the wiring for the one aboard the
downed MD-11 may have caused or at least
contributed to the accident.
The Transportation Safety Board of Canada
concluded that wiring connected to the
entertainment system or another source
short-circuited and arced, causing a fire that
ignited the adjacent insulation blanket. The
blaze led to a catastrophic system failure,
filling the cockpit with smoke and leaving the
pilots helpless to prevent the disaster.
Clay McConnell, a spokesman for Airbus, said
the recent incident bears no similarity to the
Swissair crash because the heating occurred
inside the unit and the insulation cannot catch
fire, unlike the material on the MD-11 at the
time of the accident.
"The risk of this propagating into some sort
of fire is extraordinarily low," he said from
Paris. "This is a minor incident."
McConnell disputed the report's claim that
the insulation burned, saying it was only
discoloured. He said technicians discovered that
the taping unit had shorted out, causing it to
smoke. He said that shouldn't happen on modified
units, but couldn't explain why only half had
Despite tightened regulations over the
installation of entertainment systems and closer
monitoring of them, aviation agencies have
reported dozens of incidents related to the
machines since the Swissair crash.
In a recent incident report by the
Transportation Safety Board, crew aboard an Air
Canada Airbus A319 detected an odour of burning
plastic. They cut power in the forward galley
and the smell dissipated. When power was
restored, the video player was turned on and the
Crew disabled the system for the remainder of
the flight and later determined that a video
monitor was faulty.
Vic Gerden, the Transportation Safety Board's
lead investigator on the Swissair crash, said
that accident led to more stringent rules for
the installation of systems and more vigilant
surveillance of existing ones.
"Everybody's monitoring them pretty closely
these days," he said from Toronto. "I don't
think there's an attempt to remove them on
principle, just an attempt to make them as safe
as possible and tighten the requirements."
He downplayed the seriousness of the most
recent incident, saying "this was one those
failures of a part that overheated and the
adjacent blanket seems to have stood up and not
created an undue hazard."
Lucie Vignola, spokeswoman for Transport
Canada, said the agency is looking into the
occurrence and any "corrective action to see if
we feel there should be anything mandatory."
The scrutiny appears not to have slowed sales
of the devices which, according to the World
Airline Entertainment Association, were
estimated to be $1.8 billion last year.