Aviation Investigation Report A98H0003

3.1  Findings as to Causes and Contributing Factors

  1. Aircraft certification standards for material flammability were inadequate in that they allowed the use of materials that could be ignited and sustain or propagate fire. Consequently, flammable material propagated a fire that started above the ceiling on the right side of the cockpit near the cockpit rear wall. The fire spread and intensified rapidly to the extent that it degraded aircraft systems and the cockpit environment, and ultimately led to the loss of control of the aircraft.


  2. Metallized polyethylene terephthalate (MPET)–type cover material on the thermal acoustic insulation blankets used in the aircraft was flammable. The cover material was most likely the first material to ignite, and constituted the largest portion of the combustible materials that contributed to the propagation and intensity of the fire.


  3. Once ignited, other types of thermal acoustic insulation cover materials exhibit flame propagation characteristics similar to MPET-covered insulation blankets and do not meet the proposed revised flammability test criteria. Metallized polyvinyl fluoride–type cover material was installed in HB-IWF and was involved in the in-flight fire.


  4. Silicone elastomeric end caps, hook-and-loop fasteners, foams, adhesives, and thermal acoustic insulation splicing tapes contributed to the propagation and intensity of the fire.


  5. The type of circuit breakers (CB) used in the aircraft were similar to those in general aircraft use, and were not capable of protecting against all types of wire arcing events. The fire most likely started from a wire arcing event.


  6. A segment of in-flight entertainment network (IFEN) power supply unit cable (1-3791) exhibited a region of resolidified copper on one wire that was caused by an arcing event. This resolidified copper was determined to be located near manufacturing station 383, in the area where the fire most likely originated. This arc was likely associated with the fire initiation event; however, it could not be determined whether this arced wire was the lead event.


  7. There were no built-in smoke and fire detection and suppression devices in the area where the fire started and propagated, nor were they required by regulation. The lack of such devices delayed the identification of the existence of the fire, and allowed the fire to propagate unchecked until it became uncontrollable.


  8. There was a reliance on sight and smell to detect and differentiate between odour or smoke from different potential sources. This reliance resulted in the misidentification of the initial odour and smoke as originating from an air conditioning source.


  9. There was no integrated in-flight firefighting plan in place for the accident aircraft, nor was such a plan required by regulation. Therefore, the aircraft crew did not have procedures or training directing them to aggressively attempt to locate and eliminate the source of the smoke, and to expedite their preparations for a possible emergency landing. In the absence of such a firefighting plan, they concentrated on preparing the aircraft for the diversion and landing.


  10. There is no requirement that a fire-induced failure be considered when completing the system safety analysis required for certification. The fire-related failure of silicone elastomeric end caps installed on air conditioning ducts resulted in the addition of a continuous supply of conditioned air that contributed to the propagation and intensity of the fire.


  11. The loss of primary flight displays and lack of outside visual references forced the pilots to be reliant on the standby instruments for at least some portion of the last minutes of the flight. In the deteriorating cockpit environment, the positioning and small size of these instruments would have made it difficult for the pilots to transition to their use, and to continue to maintain the proper spatial orientation of the aircraft.

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Date de modification :
2012-07-27