Plane fires linked to video systems
By Larry Pynn
The Calgary Herald
Thursday, March 27, 2003
A video-entertainment system caught fire aboard an Air Canada Airbus passenger jet parked at Vancouver International Airport last year, drawing a frightening parallel to a Swissair disaster off Nova Scotia that killed all 229 people on board in 1998.
The Vancouver fire, which occurred 40 minutes before passengers were set to board, has spurred a series of safety directives related to the replacement of faulty components and the installation of special switches to cut electrical power to entertainment systems.
The in-charge flight attendant aboard the Airbus A330-300 on Jan. 17, 2002, shut off the power switch to the forward-galley entertainment system at the first sign of trouble.
But two internal six-volt batteries continued to power the system while completing a systematic shutdown, giving new life to the smouldering fire.
Details of the fire are contained in a federal transportation safety board report concluded in January, but seen for the first time this week.
"It powers itself for two minutes even after it's shut down," said regional safety board manager Bill Yearwood. "That's the concern. The crew wasn't aware of the intricacies of the system."
Fortunately, the Vancouver incident occurred on the ground and the flight attendant managed to put out the blaze using a halon fire extinguisher.
However, the circumstances are hauntingly reminiscent of the crash of a Swissair MD-11 aircraft off Peggy's Cove. A federal report being released today into that crash is expected to point to a fire in the wiring of the entertainment system as a possible cause.
"There are a lot of concerns about flight entertainment systems," said Yearwood. "The issue is that these systems may not be as stringently scrutinized as normal aircraft components."
The Passport entertainment system that caught fire aboard the Airbus in Vancouver had been repaired by manufacturer Rockwell Collins Inc. of Pomona, Calif., three times over the preceding three months.
The U-18 component is used in 539 processing boards in Passport systems aboard 27 aircraft worldwide.
As a direct result of the Airbus fire, Rockwell Collins issued a number of service bulletins requiring airlines to replace defective U-18 components built before July 2000.
Airbus is also issuing its own service bulletins ordering the installation of a main power switch for all Passport systems aboard A330 and A340 aircraft.
Air Canada is complying with the bulletins, said the safety board report.
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