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Cabin Fumes from Non-Fire Sources

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Non Combustion-related Fumes


Article Information
Category: Fire Smoke and Fumes Fire Smoke and Fumes
Content source: SKYbrary About SKYbrary
Content control: SKYbrary About SKYbrary

Description

Fumes from various non-fire related sources may sometimes be experienced within the cabins of passenger aircraft.

Sources

Most modern passenger aircraft are equipped with pressurised, climate controlled, cabins. In spite of the aircraft designers’ intentions, unwanted fumes frequently permeate the interior of the aircraft. Open doors and hatches as well as certain on-board sources can introduce fumes to the cabin environment. However the usual path of entry for fumes is via the aircraft pressurisation and air conditioning systems.

The majority of passenger aircraft utilise bleed air from the engine or Auxiliary Power Unit to pressurize and heat or cool the aircraft cabin. As a consequence, any contaminants introduced into the engine/APU compressor prior to the point from which the bleed air is extracted may result in the appearance of corresponding fumes in the passenger cabin and flight deck.

Accidents and Incidents

  • A319, Belfast Aldergrove UK, 2011 - the investigation attributed the occurrence of fumes to the continued use of reverse idle thrust after clearing the runway onto a little used taxiway where the quantity of de-ice fluid residue was much greater than on the runway.
  • A320, en-route, Kalmar County Sweden, 2009 - the aircraft was de-iced inappropriately prior to departure and fumes entered the air conditioning system via the APU.
  • A332, Karachi Pakistan, 2014 - a hydraulic system fault was annunciated and soon afterwards, dense hydraulic mist entered both the passenger cabin and the flight deck via the aircraft air conditioning system.
  • A332, vicinity Perth Australia, 2014 - it was found that the rear pressure bulkhead insulation had not been correctly refitted following maintenance and had collapsed into and came into contact with APU bleed air duct.
  • A333, en-route, near Bournemouth UK, 2012 - the smoke warnings had all been false and had mainly come from one faulty detector.
  • A388, en-route, north east of Singapore, 2011 - investigation found signs of burning below the toilet floor and it was concluded that excessive current caused by a short circuit which had resulted from a degraded cable had been the likely cause, with over current protection limiting the damage caused by overheating.
  • B738, Glasgow UK, 2012 - excess moisture in the air conditioning system was considered likely to have been a factor.
  • B744, Phoenix USA, 2009 - detailed engineering investigation both before and after a ferry flight to the Operator’s maintenance base was unable to establish any source or explanation for the fumes / smoke.
  • B752, en-route, North Sea, 2006 - the cause was determined to be a fractured bearing floating seal ring, which had allowed engine oil to leak into the compressor airflow path and to be ingested into the bleed air system, which provides air to the cabin air conditioning system.
  • B773, Paris CDG France, 2013 - a fault in the APU had caused the smoke and fumes which had the potential to be toxic.
  • DH8D, en route, west-northwest of Dublin Ireland, 2015 - debris from a fractured bearing washer had compromised engine oil seals leading to fumes/smoke entering the aircraft through the air conditioning system.

Accidents and Incidents

Cabin air contamination

  • B734, vicinity East Midlands UK, 1989 (On 8 January 1989, the crew of a British Midland Boeing 737-400 lost control of their aircraft due to lack of engine thrust shortly before reaching a planned en route diversion being made after an engine malfunction and it was destroyed by terrain impact with fatal or serious injuries sustained by almost all the occupants. The crew response to the malfunction had been followed by their shutdown of the serviceable rather the malfunctioning engine. The Investigation concluded that the accident was entirely the consequence of inappropriate crew response to a non-critical loss of powerplant airworthiness.)
  • B763, Montreal Quebec Canada, 2013 (On 4 November 2013, smoke began to appear in the passenger cabin of a Boeing 767 which had just begun disembarking its 243 passengers via an airbridge after arriving at Montreal. The source was found to be a belt loader in position at the rear of the aircraft which had caught fire. Emergency evacuation using the airbridge only was ordered by the aircraft commander but cabin conditions led to other exits being used too. The fire was caused by a fuel leak and absence of an emergency stop button had prevented it being extinguished until the airport fire service arrived.)
  • B738, Glasgow UK, 2012 (On 19 October 2012, a Jet2-operated Boeing 737-800 departing Glasgow made a high speed rejected take off when a strange smell became apparent in the flight deck and the senior cabin crew reported what appeared to be smoke in the cabin. The subsequent emergency evacuation resulted in one serious passenger injury. The Investigation was unable to conclusively identify a cause of the smoke and the also- detected burning smells but excess moisture in the air conditioning system was considered likely to have been a factor and the Operator subsequently made changes to its maintenance procedures.)
  • A320, en-route, Kalmar County Sweden, 2009 (On 2 March 2009, communication difficulties and inadequate operator procedures led to an Airbus A320-200 being de-iced inappropriately prior to departure from Vasteras and fumes entered the air conditioning system via the APU. Although steps were then taken before departure in an attempt to clear the contamination, it returned once airborne. The flight crew decided to don their oxygen masks and complete the flight to Poznan. Similar fumes in the passenger cabin led to only temporary effects which were alleviated by the use of therapeutic oxygen. The Investigation concluded that no health risks arose from exposure to the fumes involved.)
  • MD11, en-route, Atlantic Ocean near Halifax Canada, 1998 (On 2 September 1998, an MD-11 aircraft belonging to Swissair, crashed into the sea off Nova Scotia following an in-flight electrical fire.)

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Further Reading