Report links lithium batteries to UPS crash in 2010

The General Civil Aviation Authority of the United Arab Emirates has released a 322-page report on the Sept. 3, 2010, crash of the UPS Boeing 747-44AF. The investigation did not determine exactly what started the fire, but said a chain-reaction fire was the result of a blaze that started in an area carrying lithium batteries.

“A large fire developed in palletized cargo on the main deck at or near pallet positions 4 or 5, in Fire Zone 3, consisting of consignments of mixed cargo including a significant number of lithium type batteries and other combustible materials,” the report said. “The fire escalated rapidly into a catastrophic uncontained fire….The uncontained cargo fire directly affected the independent critical systems necessary for crew survivability. Heat from the fire exposed the supplementary oxygen system to extreme thermal loading, sufficient to generate a failure. This resulted in the oxygen supply disruption leading to the abrupt failure of the Captain’s oxygen supply and the incapacitation of the captain.”

The fire started soon after takeoff and the plane crashed as it attempted to return to Dubai International Airport. Both pilots were killed.

The GCAA issued several recommendations, including calling for the FAA, in coordination or cooperation with the European Aviation Safety Agency, to require mandatory full-face oxygen masks for pilots.

Another recommendation was that “the FAA in co-operation or in coordination with EASA to mandate the implementation of vision assurance devices or technology for improved pilot visibility during continuous smoke, fire, fumes in the cockpit emergencies. This could include off the shelf devices or developing mask mounted thermal imaging cameras with the capability to see through smoke/fumes with sufficient clarity to view the primary cockpit instrumentation.”

The union representing UPS pilots welcomed the report.

“Nearly three years following this tragic accident, UPS pilots welcome the release of this final report,” said Independent Pilots Association (IPA) President Robert Travis. “Some of the GCAA’s recommendations are already being addressed by a joint company and pilot union group, the IPA/UPS Safety Task Force, created shortly after the accident,” he stated.

Travis said the union has worked with UPS to design, build, test and demonstrate for the FAA and NTSB an active fire suppression system capable of suppressing and containing a fire for up to four (4) hours. The technologies incorporated in that container, known as the Unit Load Device, consist of improved materials and a potassium based aerosol suppressant.

“We encourage the FAA and UPS to move quickly and deliberately in approving and fully implementing this new technology,” added Travis.

Prior to the release of the GCAA’s final report, the UPS/IPA Safety Task Force recommended other safety measures that are being implemented by UPS including EVAS (Emergency Vision Assurance System), and quick donning full-face oxygen masks for all UPS aircraft. Both provide significant improvements on the flight deck during an onboard smoke, fire or fume event.

“We tragically lost two of our best pilots in the Dubai crash. As UPS pilots, we are determined to do everything in our power to minimize the risk associated with on-board smoke and fire events,” said Travis. “This includes proper regulations governing the carriage of hazardous materials including lithium batteries.”

Just prior to the report’s issuance, UPS announced it had recently placed an industry-first order for 1,821 fiber-reinforced plastic shipping containers designed to withstand intense fires for four hours or longer, giving pilots more time to safely land their planes in an emergency. UPS said the order is one component of a series of fire safety recommendations it implemented following the aircraft accident in Dubai in 2010.

UPS said the UPS-Independent Pilots Association Safety Task Force collaborated with the NTSB, FAA and industry safety experts to research and implement a series of industry-leading safety enhancements. Beyond the new fire-resistant containers, UPS said it has implemented the following changes:

* Fire containment covers for cargo pallets
* Quick donning, full-face oxygen masks
* Emergency Vision Assurance System (EVAS)
* Enhanced crew member training and emergency checklists
* Enhanced customer and employee training on hazardous material shipping
These solutions are designed to help prevent a blaze before it even starts; contain a fire at its source; and give crews time to get safely on the ground.
Other ongoing efforts to enhance cargo fire safety include :

* FAA certification for an in-container fire suppression system
* Advocating for harmonization of domestic and international shipping regulations
* Research and testing of fire-resistant collapsible containers

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