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7 Passenger jets reported fire, smoke at Vancouver's airport

7 passenger jets reported fire, smoke at Vancouver's international airport last year

Swissair crash has raised awareness of potential dangers of smoke in the cabin


METRO VANCOUVER -- Fire, smoke, and electrical fumes aboard seven commercial passenger planes last year at Vancouver International Airport resulted in everything from emergency landings and diverted flights to pilots donning oxygen masks, a review of Transport Canada reports shows.

On May 25, an Air Canada Boeing 777-300 was inbound from Japan when the crew "noticed an acrid smell in the passenger cabin." The entertainment system was identified as the source, and the power was shut off. The crew then issued an emergency call, and received landing priority from air-traffic control. Fire crews were ready, but the plane landed safely.

The fire risks associated with airplane electrical systems — especially entertainment systems — have been a major industry concern since the 1998 crash of Swissair Flight 111 and the deaths of 229 people off Peggy’s Cove, N.S.

"The big message is that since Swissair there’s been greater awareness, more reports of smoke and fire smells, because people understand how critical it is," Bill Yearwood, regional manager of the federal Transportation Safety Board, said in an interview in Richmond.

A safety board report in 2003 attributed the Swissair crash to worn or faulty entertainment system wiring surrounded by flammable thermal-acoustical insulation blankets. Hidden from passengers’ view, the blankets kept the cabins warm in flight and minimized engine noise.

The Federal Aviation Bureau in the U.S. issued an airplane service bulletin requiring removal of the insulating material that contributed to the crash, and there have been no similar accidents.

Yearwood said the May 25 incident at YVR involved a faulty circuit board in the entertainment system rather than the related wiring. The Air Canada crew did the right thing by identifying the source and cutting the power.

"That’s how the system should work," he added.

"The problem was isolated in the unit and the crew was able to stop the progression of fire. All of that was part of the learning from Swissair."

Transport Canada spokeswoman Kelly James said that since the Swissair crash, her department has strengthened requirements for electrical wiring interconnection systems, issued an advisory providing emergency procedures for fire or smoke, and developed a training video on fighting inflight fires in collaboration with the FAA.

Other related Transport Canada reports for 2012 at Vancouver airport include:

• Feb. 7: An off-duty flight attendant on a Canadair CL-600-2B19 climbing out of Victoria noticed "smoke and possibly sparks coming from the side wall lighting area in the cabin." The Air Canada Jazz crew shut down the side lighting and diverted to Vancouver. Condensation was found in the area of the side wall lighting assembly, but there was no evidence of sparking.

• July 12: Shortly after an Air Canada Airbus A320-200 took off for Toronto the crew received an instrument panel alert related to the equipment cooling system and to avionics smoke. They returned safely to Vancouver.

• July 13: The crew of an Air Canada Jazz de Havilland Dash 8 en route to Castlegar reported smoke in the cockpit and returned to YVR. Firefighters were on standby, but the plane landed normally.

• Oct. 3: A London Air Services executive Learjet was climbing on a flight to Edmonton when the auxiliary power unit fire warning illuminated. The crew declared an emergency, returned to Vancouver and landed without further incident. A followup inspection could find no evidence of a fire.

• Oct 24: A Jazz Dash 8 was descending through 10,000 feet en route to Vancouver when the flight crew "heard a popping sound, saw a small flame on the captain’s windshield heater wires, and noticed an electrical smell." The windshield heat was turned off, the flame extinguished, and the crew put on oxygen masks. Fire crews were called, but the plane landed safely and the left windshield was replaced.

• Nov. 9: During boarding an Air Canada Embraer 190 crew reported "smoke and acrid odour emitting from a coffee maker in the aft galley." Electrical power was cut and the problem dissipated. Passengers deplaned. The coffee maker was replaced and the plane was returned to service within an hour.
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