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In-Flight Fire: Guidance for Flight Crews
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|Category:||Fire Smoke and Fumes|
Crews should follow company approved emergency procedures and manufacturers guidance regarding the conduct of the flight, management of aircraft systems, identification of the source of a suspected fire, and fire fighting.
This article considers some aspects of airmanship which are applicable to all aircraft and situations.
At the first indication, or suspicion, of smoke and fumes, or a fire within the aircraft, the flight crew should don smoke goggles and oxygen masks. Goggles and masks need to fit tightly and 100% Oxygen with overpressure selected to minimise any ingress of smoke and fumes into the mask.
Unless smoke and fumes are clearly present on the flight deck, the captain may elect, in order to maintain communication with the cabin crew, to delay fitting his own mask until the co-pilot has donned his protective equipment and is in a position to take control of the aircraft.
LAND AS SOON AS POSSIBLE
Plan for Immediate Descent and Landing
Many smoke and fire warnings turn out to be spurious. Passengers and cabin crew reporting unusual smells and fumes, may be inclined to downplay the situation for fear of embarrassment if they are wrong. Fire/smoke warnings and reports of smoke or fumes should be taken seriously until there is POSITIVE confirmation that the warnings are false. If it is a real fire, then a flight crew does not have very long to deal with the situation - time is critical.
The crew should commence descent immediately and begin planning for an emergency landing. An emergency should be declared and ATC told that the aircraft is in descent. In a high traffic area, when there may be a number of aircraft in close proximity, it would be a good idea to declare the emergency and ask for descent and vectors to the closest airfield before commencing descent. However, if that clearance is not immediately forthcoming, descend without it. Putting an aircraft on the ground within 15 minutes of a fire being detected is a challenge if you are at cruising altitude in a modern passenger jet - for example, descent at maximum speed and full drag will still take at least 5 minutes from cruise altitude to sea-level in an A320 - so any delay in commencing descent may prove fatal.
Over western Europe or the eastern seaboard of the USA, there are numerous airfields, both active and disused, which are suitable for an emergency landing. The same is not the case for an aircraft over the open oceans or over sparsely populated land regions such as northern Canada or eastern Russia. If there is quantifiable evidence of an uncontrolled fire, then there is a real possibility of loss of control in the short term, and therefore an off-field landing or ditching may be the only way of surviving the experience.
Fight the Fire
While the requirement is to land the aircraft as soon as possible, the crew need to do all that they can to isolate and control the fire. The FAA Advisory Circular 120-80 (see Further Reading) uses the phrase “aggressively pursue” to describe the urgency with which cabin crew need to locate the source of the fire and attack it using all available resources, which may include deadheading crew members and passengers. Crews should follow Company procedures for fighting an in-flight fire.
- Fire in the Air
- Cabin Fire
- In-Flight Fire: Guidance for Controllers
- Reflections on the Decision to Ditch a Large Transport Aircraft - an account by the aircraft captain and pilot of a RAF Nimrod which ditched into the North Sea following an engine fire which spread to the wing.
Accident & Serious Incident Reports
- Accident and Serious Incident Reports: FIRE - a selection of reports concerning events where fire was a contributary factor.
- FAA Advisory Circular AC 120-80 In-Flight Fires;
- Effectiveness of Hand-Held Extinguishers Against Hidden Cabin Fires
Flight Safety Foundation
- Flight Safety Foundation (FSF) Accident Prevention, Mar 2004, Electric Arc Identified as Likely Source of In-flight Fire Aboard Swissair MD11.
Australian Transportation Safety Board Australian Transportation Safety Board reports: