Nobody thinks much about aircraft escape slides unless and until they’re needed. And then they think about little else. If an airliner itself is a technical marvel, one of the sub-marvels aboard is the slide system. Every exit door has to have one and in a big airframe like the 777, there may be a half-dozen, including complex models that have to fold down over the wing for evacuations from mid-fuselage. An Airbus 380 has 16. In this video posted by Alex Warren, you can see a selection of slides being deployed for routine testing and maintenance.

Modern slides are required to deploy within six seconds in winds up to 25 knots and are required for every exit where passengers can be expected to egress without injury. They’re not used often, but they’re not rarely used, either. In the 10-year period between 1990 and 1999, the NTSB found that 27 incidents and 21 accidents required evacuation and use of slides. Call that about five times a year.

And sometimes they don’t work. Or they don’t work as expected. A subsequent report by the NTSB found that in seven out of 19 evacuations reviewed, at least one slide failed to operate correctly. Sometimes, they inflate uncommanded, as on this United Airlines flight in which an aft slide inflated, momentarily alarming passengers seated near it. That sort of thing happens about three or four times a year, although rarely inflight. Usually, the fault is human error. And to minimize that, flight attendants double-check that the slides are disarmed at the gate. When you hear the call to “cross check,” one attendant is making sure another deactivated the slide. It gets really messy if one lights off at the jet bridge.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Nice video, but not as good as an A340 I watched some time back. We were at Lufthansa, working on the Airbus. Slide test! They opened the door, and the slide promptly inflated. … And just as promptly deflated! Sigh… just glad it was only a test. But it did make a BIG BANG.

  2. I think the 90 second evacuation requirement needs to be revisited by the FAA. The ample proportions of today’s US population frequently witnessed on commercial flights, is unlikely to make a successful evacuation possible in 90 seconds. Even if you lit a fire under them, I’ve seen folks in coach virtually unable to get out of their seats in the best of times.

  3. Sorry but to say people will escape injury is wrong.
    To expect someone whose last physical activity was a forced jog across a playing field at school (and who is probably heading for 300 lbs) to cope with a 10 metre high slide to the ground, ideally requiring a hop and jump at the top and a rapid clearing of the slide at the bottom, is to expect to much. And look around, that is probably half the plane. Broken bones abound.

  4. Egressing out of an aircraft, usually in a frantic state, more times then not, leads to some form of injuries. Slides, cockpit escape ropes or reels, usually are never executed very well under pressure, let alone during a staged demo. Good luck seeking perfection when dealing with the human element..