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Precautionary Rapid Disembarkation
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Rapid Disembarkation is the expedited exit of passengers and crew from a parked aircraft utilizing the boarding entrance(s) and the associated airport infrastructure (airbridge, jetway or boarding stairs) or the aircraft airstairs.
Rapid disembarkation protocols can be initiated at any time that an aircraft is on-stand with an airbridge connected or boarding steps in place and passengers aboard. The decision to initiate rapid disembarkation is likely to be taken in response to an occurrence involving some aspect of pre or post flight ground handling activity.
There are a great number of activities that must take place to ready a large passenger aircraft for each flight. These include:
- maintenance inspection and release
- flight crew external inspection and cabin crew inspection and preparation
- flight crew cockpit preparation and briefing
- baggage and freight loading/offloading
- passenger embarkation/disembarkation
Additional maintenance activity such as rectification of minor mechanical deficiencies or tyre changes may also be required and, where possible, will be accomplished at the boarding gate. Given the operational imperative to "keep the aircraft moving", every attempt is made to minimise the amount of time that an aircraft spends on the ground between flights. As a consequence, many of the activities listed above are accomplished concurrently. This often means that passenger offload or, more usually, passenger boarding is underway whilst the aircraft is being fuelled, loaded and catered. In proximity to the aircraft in question, other planes are continuously arriving at or departing from adjacent gates, either under tow or self powered. There also is significant vehicular traffic in support of those aircraft.
Every effort is made to ensure that all ground support activities are carried out efficiently and safely. However, accidents occur, machinery malfunctions, and situations sometimes arise which pose a potential risk to the passengers in the process of boarding. These risks might include, but are not limited to:
- fuel spills
- smoke or fumes, from a variety of potential sources, entering the aircraft cabin
- a fire in proximity to the aircraft caused by malfunctioning ground support equipment
- an accident, either directly involving the aircraft in question, one on an adjacent stand or ground support vehicles in proximity to the aircraft
- a bomb threat
Although such cases are rare, when they do occur the most prudent course of action is often the rapid disembarkation of passengers from the affected aircraft. Incidents have shown that passengers may not appreciate the important difference between rapid disembarkation and emergency evacuation so it it important that instructions to the passengers are absolutely clear and unambiguous.
The Company Operations Manual (COM), as expanded (where applicable) by the Company Flight Attendant Manual (FAM) and Company Ground Handling Manual, will provide guidance for ground operations inclusive of any restrictions imposed on concurrent activities. As an example, some Companies (and some airports) do not allow refueling with passengers on board unless Rescue and Fire Fighting Services are in attendance.
Whilst all crew are responsible for passenger safety, the COM should specify that any decision to initiate any unplanned disembarkation, and the method by which it will be achieved, is the responsibility of the Captain or, in his absence his designate (First Officer or Flight Attendant) or, in certain circumstances, another appropriately trained and designated Company employee. The latter situation is intended to accommodate circumstances where the COM allows for commencement of passenger boarding before members of the flight crew are present.
The designated individual has overall responsibility for passenger safety during the embarkation/disembarkation process. As a consequence, the ground agent and cabin supervisor should seek the designated individual's approval prior to commencing the boarding process. The designated individual should be inside the aircraft whenever passengers are embarking, on board or disembarking. Should a situation arise that has the potential to put the passengers at risk, the designated individual is responsible for determining the most appropriate course of action, initiating that action and broadcasting the intended actions to ATC with a request for any needed external assistance.
In the event of a situation which warrants the evacuation of the aircraft, the Captain or designated individual will first determine the immediacy of the threat and then decide on the most appropriate course of action be it an Emergency Evacuation or a Rapid Disembarkation. They will then initiate the chosen action by use of a coded phrase as specified in the COM. For Rapid Disembarkation, many operators use the phrase "ATTENTION CABIN CREW, CLEAR THE AIRCRAFT IMMEDIATELY" but there are also other execution phrases in use.
Upon hearing the execution phrase for Rapid Disembarkation, the cabin crew and ground staff will, if necessary, first reverse the passenger flow on the airbridge or boarding stairs so passengers about to embark are moving away from the aircraft. At the same time, the In-Charge Flight Attendant will make a public address system announcement advising the on-board passengers of the need for immediate deplanement. The announcement will include the following instructions:
- Leave all personal belongings behind
- Note: Passengers nearest the door may still have their bags in their hands and will be very reluctant to leave them; other passengers seeing some people carrying bags off and will want to take theirs too.
- Leave the aircraft via the stairs or the bridge positioned at the front (front and back or as appropriate) of the aircraft
- Note: If disembarking onto the tarmac, many passengers may then want to stand and gawp, and take pictures. The crew must be prepared to be assertive to keep everyone safe!
- Move away from the aircraft (back into the boarding lounge or towards the terminal as appropriate)
- Refrain from smoking
- Further information will be available once everyone is off of the aircraft
In the event that electrical power is interrupted, a megaphone will be used or shouted instructions will be provided.
Cabin crew in the isle(s) will reinforce the PA announcement, especially the instruction to leave items behind, and make every attempt to ensure that passengers deplane as quickly as possible. Assistance will be provided to any passengers for which it is required. As the last passengers are deplaning, the cabin crew will conduct a sweep of the aircraft, inclusive of galleys and toilets, to ensure that all passengers have disembarked. The cabin crew will then leave the aircraft.
- RJ1H, Zurich Switzerland, 2006 On 26 January 2006, an Avro RJ100 being operated by Swiss European on a scheduled passenger service from Hanover to Zurich had reached the parking gate at destination in normal day visibility when a flash fire occurred following the connection of ground electrical power. The commander ordered an emergency evacuation but since the air bridge was already in position at the aircraft, the cabin crew decided to carry out a rapid disembarkation and all passengers and cabin crew were off the aircraft within two minutes. A flight deck fire extinguisher was used against the apparent origin of the fire, the vicinity of the First Officer’s rudder pedals. read more...
- B763, Montreal Quebec Canada, 2013 On 4 November 2013, a Boeing 767-300 (CN-RNT) being operated by Royal Air Maroc on a scheduled passenger flight (RAM 206) from Casablanca to Montreal had just begun disembarking its 243 passengers after arriving at Montreal in daylight when a burning smell became evident in the passenger cabin. After the crew had established that the origin of the smoke was a fire in ground equipment close to the aircraft, an emergency evacuation was ordered. Seven passengers sustained minor injuries or were overcome by smoke of whom five were taken to hospital. Subsequent inspection of the aircraft found that it was undamaged. read more...
- B773, Paris CDG France, 2013 On 28 July 2013, a Boeing 777-300 (F-GSQA) being operated by Air France and nearing departure on a scheduled passenger flight from Paris CDG to Shanghai at night was evacuated following a MAYDAY declaration due to smoke and fumes in the cabin whilst boarding was largely complete at the time with two air bridges still attached. One of the 298 passengers on board sustained a serious injury. read more...
- E170, Nuremberg Germany, 2013 On 13 March 2013, an Embraer ERJ170-100LR, being operated by Air France subsidiary Régional into Nuremberg, had just arrived on its gate in normal daylight ground visibility when a routinely connected GPU immediately disconnected and smoke became evident. A precautionary rapid disembarkation of the 77 passengers was accomplished. Minor damage was caused to the aircraft. read more...
- Refuelling with Passengers on Board
- Refuelling and Defuelling Risks
- Flight Crew Pre Flight External Check
- Loading of Aircraft with Cargo
- Passenger Cabin Loading
- Jet Efflux Hazard
- Aircraft Towing
- Rapid Deplaning by Airbridge Requires Coordinated Procedures, FSF Airport Operations Vol. 28 No. 2, Flight Safety Foundation, 2002
- Emergency Evacuation of Commercial Passenger Aeroplanes, Second Edition 2020, Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS) paper published in June 2020.