Fire suppression systems on all cargo aeroplanes

Aircraft Engineering and Aerospace Technology

ISSN: 0002-2667

Article publication date: 21 March 2008



(2008), "Fire suppression systems on all cargo aeroplanes", Aircraft Engineering and Aerospace Technology, Vol. 80 No. 2.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Fire suppression systems on all cargo aeroplanes

Article Type: Safety topic and notes From: Aircraft Engineering and Aerospace Technology: An International Journal, Volume 80, Issue 2.

The National Transportation Safety Board has recommended that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) require that all cargo aeroplanes operating under Part 121 Code of Federal Regulations install fire suppression systems. This recommendation is a result of the Board's investigation of a United Parcel Service (UPS) DC-8 cargo fire in Philadelphia last year.

The Safety Board recently released a final report that determined the probable cause of this accident was an in-flight fire that initiated from an unknown source within one of the containers in the main cargo compartment. The report concluded that the threat from cargo fires could be mitigated by the installation of fire suppression systems.

On 7 February 2006, about 11:59pm (EST), UPS Company flight 1307, a McDonnell Douglas DC-8-71F, landed at Philadelphia International Airport (PHL), Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, after a cargo smoke indication in the cockpit. The captain, first officer, and flight engineer evacuated from the aeroplane after landing. The flight crew-members sustained minor injuries, and the aeroplane and most of the cargo were destroyed by fire after landing.

“While we may not know the source of the fire which caused this accident, our investigators have done an excellent job of highlighting possible solutions that will address hazards associated with in-flight fires,” said NTSB Chairman Mark V. Rosenker.

In the report, it states that examinations of the recovered components revealed no evidence of any pre-existing powerplant, structural, or system failures. Also noted was that given the length of time that the fire burned and the resulting destruction of potentially helpful evidence, the post- fire condition of the cargo containers and contents and the surrounding aeroplane structure provided no evidence that indicated what initiated the fire. The investigation also revealed that several electronic devices containing secondary lithium batteries were onboard the aeroplane. Unfortunately, the lack of information about the devices or the batteries prevented any determination of whether these batteries were associated with previously known recalls and contributory and/or causal to the fire. The exact origin and cause of the in- flight fire on board the aeroplane could not be determined due to the destruction of potentially helpful evidence; however, available evidence suggest that the fire most likely originated in main cargo compartment.

Safety Board investigators reviewed the fire and smoke detection system certification requirements. The examination revealed that the current certification test standards and guidance for smoke or fire detection systems on board many aircraft are not adequate. They do not account for the effects of cargo containers on airflow around the detection sensors and on the containment of smoke from a fire inside a container. The report states that evidence indicates that the fire initially did not generate a significant amount of smoke and most likely initiated as a smouldering fire inside a cargo container. The construction of the cargo containers, which results in restricted airflow in or out of the container, likely inhibited the growth and detection of the fire in its initial stages.

“We have identified several safety issues where improvements in the aviation cargo industry could make transporting of goods safer. Our safety recommendations are essential tools that if implemented can ensure that this will happen,” Rosenker said.

As a result of its investigation, the Safety Board made recommendations in the following areas including: guidance and checklists relating to in-flight fire and smoke, certification requirements for smoke and fire detection system tests, fire suppression system requirements, aircraft rescue and firefighting training, cargo aeroplane emergency exit requirements, hazardous materials information and dissemination procedures, and transport of lithium batteries on board aircraft.

These recommendations were addressed to the FAA, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, and the Cargo Airline Association.

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