Spills Prompt Liquids AD On A350s


Liquids have been banned from certain areas of the cockpits of A350 airliners after a couple of diversions caused by spills on the center panels. The European Aviation Safety Agency has issued an emergency AD banning liquids from areas of the cockpit where spillage might muck up the electronic works of the state-of-the-art aircraft since a spill in the right place could bring the aircraft down. The AD also includes tips on how to clean up the spill. The action comes after two instances in which spilled beverages resulted in the shutdown of one of the aircraft’s engines and the crews were unable to restart them. In a worst-case scenario, EASA reasons, one unfortunately placed spill could result in the irreversible silencing of both massive Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engines.

The mishaps responsible for the liquids-free zone involved a Delta flight heading to Seoul from Detroit and an Asiana flight from Seoul to Singapore. On the Delta flight it was coffee while the Asiana flight’s costly spill was tea but in both cases the liquid fell on the master engine controls right behind the throttles, which is also a handy flat spot between the pilot and FO seats. The coffee and tea shorted out the controls and the confusing commands from the panel caused the computer to cut off fuel to the affected engine. “Subsequent engine relight attempts were not successful,” the AD says. The Delta flight had to divert to Fairbanks and the Asiana crew headed to Manila. So far, the AD applies to A350s owned by carriers from the European Union but other countries usually follow.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. Un-eff-ing believable.
    How do you design mission-critical control panels that are not spill-proof? Seriously.
    And how do you not test for this? Again, seriously. Spill events certainly would be on my test protocol.
    Ever break a windscreen in a hailstorm?
    THIS is a different kind of a “storm.”

    • Agreed; if the failure mode is “unfortunately placed spill could result in the irreversible silencing of both massive Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engines” then how can you let the slip through testing?

  2. They’ve designed an airliner costing millions of dollars and can’t design in a cup holder in an out of the way place away from sensitive items? Every one of my vehicles has one! I bet the HondaJet has one?

  3. Anybody who remembers Saturday Night Live’s “The Pepsi Syndrome” resulting in the Attack of the 50-Foot President knows how wrong beverage spillage can go.

  4. Since liquid spills in the cockpit are fairly common, it’s surprising that it takes no more than that to trigger major aircraft systems. Maybe a rule requiring covered liquid containers in the cockpit would solve the problem. It’s cheaper than a re-design.

  5. It’s a common problem in any high-button environment; it was – and I presume still is – a significant problem in the broadcasting industry, where coffee-loving humans sit in front of vast panels filled with electro-mechanical goodies. Fortunately the only crash it generated there was the s-storm of wrath that descended on the miscreant’s head.

    The engineer’s solution would be membrane switches, but the tactile characteristics just wouldn’t fly (semi-pun) with the users.

      • Most modern Homebuilts use touch screens and digital circuit breakers for everything. Buttons/keyboards are soooo old school. Someday they’ll catch up…

        Maybe it’s time to get the humans out of the cockpit 😉

  6. Maybe flight crews should just have the good sense not place liquid containers on a complex electronics panel. For many years I’ve had a personal rule to have no liquids within a foot or so of my computer. Why take the chance of a spill?

  7. Good thing IMDB exist. I knew I had seen this problem before “Fate Is the Hunter (1964) – IMDb” Plane crashes because coffee spills on dash.

  8. Some things don’t change. Between 1973 and 1975 I cleaned out numerous B-52 Autopilot control panels that were gummed up with coffee, sugar and cream because the panel was the best place to put an open coffee cup on the center console. Cup holders are a great idea. The hard part is getting lazy pilots to use them. Even better – design the console with an slope so the cup won’t sit there in the first place. As for flight testing for something like this? Get serious! Flight testers have a lot more important things to do during a test flight and scenarios like this just don’t show up in the test plan. I’m sure everybody thinks it’s important right now but it is truly an outlier in the giant bell curve of important aviation events.