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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
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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

Cabin air contamination

  • 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.)
  • 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.)
  • 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.)
  • A332, vicinity Perth Australia, 2014 (On 9 June 2014, a 'burning odour' of undetermined origin became evident in the rear galley of an Airbus A330 as soon as the aircraft powered up for take off. Initially, it was dismissed as not uncommon and likely to soon dissipate, but it continued and affected cabin crew were unable to continue their normal duties and received oxygen to assist recovery. En route diversion was considered but flight completion chosen. 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.)
  • E190, en-route, southwest of Turku Finland, 2017 (On 3 December 2017, an Embraer E190 en-route at FL310 was already turning back to Helsinki because of a burning smell in the flight deck when smoke in the cabin was followed by smoke in the flight deck. A MAYDAY was declared to ATC reporting “fire on board” and their suggested diversion to Turku was accepted. The situation initially improved but worsened after landing prompting a precautionary emergency evacuation. The Investigation subsequently attributed the smoke to a malfunctioning air cycle machine. Issues with inaccessible cabin crew smoke hoods and with the conduct and aftermath of the evacuation were also identified.)

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Further Reading