UPS Flight 6 Dubai crash spurs NTSB Safety Recommendation to FAA on unsafe cargo

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On September 3, 2010, UPS flight 6, a Boeing 747-400, crashed about nine miles outside Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), barely missing Dubai Silicon Oasis. The UPS flight crew, Captain, 48-year old Doug Lampe of Louisville and the first officer, 38-year old Matthew Bell from Florida died. The crew encountered a “Fire Main Deck” warning 22 minutes into the flight at of 32,000 feet, declared the emergency, and initiated a return to Dubai airport.  Luckily, there were no ground injuries. The airplane was destroyed by the fire and the crash.

(AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)
Lithium battery fires burn at over 4000 degrees F, too hot for most traditional fire suppression systems.

In the case of the UPS plane fire, according to the investigation and the notes ( which are sensitive and I won’t publish here)  there was a lapse of 2 1/2 minutes between detection of the fire and depressurization, which was enough time for the fire to damage the plane and affect the pilots’ ability to control the aircraft, the NTSB said. The crew had little time to respond before their oxygen supplies were cut off, and the plane coasted ( unmanned) to its final crash site.

What you may have heard from myself about tired/ fatigued  pilots and the dangerous cargo supplies still holds true today; we are only fortunate this crash came down in the desolate area that it did. Imagine the collateral damage of that jetliner had it come down in the middle of St Matthews or the Highlands, let alone a major city like  Chicago. Ad a UPS hub, we should be concerned. Very Concerned.

The big business of the airlines had argued that the safety measures were too expensive vs. the collateral damage threats of the cargo fires and or plane take downs.

What they also do not want you to know is that while they rack up $6 billion per quarter in profits, they are too cheap to add the correct fire suppression systems or the cockpit smoke systems that would have allowed these guys to see the controls through the smoke, and provide  oxygen  in order to get themselves on the ground, safely.

The halon systems don’t work on fires involving lithium metal batteries, which are found in watches, calculators and a wide range of consumer goods.

Unlike other kinds of batteries, lithium metal batteries can spontaneously ignite if exposed to air. Also, the positive and negative poles in some lithium batteries are close together, leading more easily to short circuiting, which can cause a fire.

Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, which power devices such as laptop computers, cellphones and MP3 players, are a fire concern, too. Fires involving lithium-ion batteries can reach 1,100 degrees, close to the melting point of aluminum, a key material in airplane construction. Lithium-metal battery fires are far hotter, capable of reaching 4,000 degrees.

1 For information about the NTSB’s cargo container fire study (NTSB Materials Laboratory Study Report 12-019), see case number DCA10RA092 on the NTSB’s website at http://www.ntsb.gov/investigations/dms.html.

2 The Boeing 747-400F is a Boeing 747-400 freighter.

3 This information was taken from the April 3, 2011, UAE General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) Air Accident Preliminary Report, Boeing 747-400F/N571UP, GCAA Accident Report No. 13/2010 (accessed online May 4, 2011).

Finally today, CHairman Hersman of the National Transportation and Safety Board strongly recommends to the Federal Aviation  Administration to urge all cargo carriers to install the correct cargo fire suppression systems, and cockpit smoke vision systems.

“Therefore, the NTSB recommends that the FAA require the installation and use of active fire suppression systems in all aircraft cargo compartments or containers, or both, such that fires are not allowed to develop.

The NTSB is concerned about the effectiveness of the current fire protection strategy employed in cargo airplanes. Results from investigations of in-flight cargo fires during the past 6 years and the NTSB’s recent cargo container fire study provide strong evidence to support these recommendations.”

Thankfully, UPS said tests last month of a cargo container it developed showed the container can suppress and contain lithium-ion battery fires for as long as four hours, plenty of time for the pilots to react to impending doom.

FedEx Corp. has developed a fire-suppression system that, once a fire is detected in a cargo container, punches a hole into the top of the container and injects an argon-based foam to smother a fire, and absorb toxic fumes, officials for the airline said.

FedEx has installed the system on its Boeing 777s and MD11s, which fly long routes over water and to remote areas of the globe.

Thank you to the many men and women who kept the issues at the forefront of our Nations’ leaders through the years in order to not only keep our pilot’s safe, but also those of us on the ground.