Cabin Fumes from Non-Fire Sources

Cabin Fumes from Non-Fire Sources

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 (APU) 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

On 15 December 2019, an Airbus A330-200 turned back to Sydney shortly after departure when a major hydraulic system leak was annunciated. The return was uneventful until engine shutdown after clearing the runway following which APU use for air conditioning was followed by a gradual build up of hydraulic haze and fumes which eventually prompted an emergency evacuation. The Investigation found that fluid leaking from ruptured rudder servo hose had entered the APU air intake. The resulting evacuation was found to have been somewhat disorganised with this being attributed mainly to a combination of inadequate cabin crew procedures and training.

On 5 August 2019, an Airbus A321 crew declared a MAYDAY immediately after clearing the landing runway at Valencia when a hold smoke warning was annunciated. An emergency evacuation was completed without injuries. This warning followed “white smoke” from the air conditioning system entering both the passenger cabin and flight deck in the four minutes before landing which had prompted the pilots to don oxygen masks. The Investigation found the white smoke was the direct consequence of an oil leak from the right engine as a result of the misalignment and breakage of a bearing and its associated hydraulic seal. 

On 6 March 2018, smoke was detected coming from flight deck and passenger cabin air conditioning vents of an en-route Bombardier DHC8-400. A MAYDAY was declared to ATC but the prescribed response effectively cleared the smoke and no emergency evacuation on landing was deemed necessary. The Investigation found that the smoke was caused by oil leaking into the air conditioning system due to a failed right hand engine seal. The operator subsequently began to implement a recommended engine modification and adopt a system provided by the engine manufacturer to proactively detect such oil leaks before air conditioning systems are contaminated. 

On 28 February 2019, an Embraer E195 abandoned takeoff from Exeter when fight deck fumes/smoke accompanied thrust applied against the brakes. When informed of similar conditions in the cabin, the Captain ordered an emergency evacuation. Some passengers using the overwing exits re-entered the cabin after becoming confused as to how to leave the wing. The Investigation attributed the fumes to an incorrectly-performed engine compressor wash arising in a context of poorly-managed maintenance and concluded that guidance on overwing exit use had been inadequate and that the 1.8 metre certification height limit for exits without evacuation slides should be reduced.

On 3 August 2018, smoke appeared and began to intensify in the passenger cabin but not the flight deck of an Airbus A319 taxiing for departure at Helsinki. Cabin crew notified the Captain who stopped the aircraft and sanctioned an emergency evacuation. This then commenced whilst the engines were still running and inadequate instructions to passengers resulted in a completely disorderly evacuation. The Investigation attributed this to inadequate crew procedures which only envisaged an evacuation ordered by the Captain for reasons they were directly aware of and not a situation where the evacuation need was only obvious in the cabin.

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