The Airbus A350 Cockpit Now Has A ‘Liquid Free’ Zone

Cockpits in A350 aircraft will now have a defined liquid-free zone. The interim directive from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency follows two incidents where spilled liquids in the cockpit led to the shutdown of one of the plane’s engines.

A350 operators now have to put in place a liquid-free zone in the cockpits following two incidents in recent months. Photo: Airbus.

The EASA directive applies to both A350-900 and A350-1000 aircraft. According to Flight Global, spilt liquids on the engine start panel or the electronic centralized aircraft monitor panel could potentially cause the aircraft’s engines to shut down. 

Two incidents have caught the regulator’s attention

The first incident occurred on 9 November 2019. The aircraft and its operator has not been identified but in a nice piece of sleuthing, Flight Global notes that an Asiana A350-900 flight operating between Seoul and Singapore diverted to Manila that day.

Apparently, tea was spilled into the center pedestal. Approximately one hour after this happened the aircraft right-hand engine shutdown. Despite attempted restarts, the Trent XWB engine would not stay running.

The first incident is believed to have involved an Asiana A350. Photo: Airbus.

On 21 January 2020, a Delta Air Lines A350-900 flying between Detroit and Seoul also had an engine shutdown and was required to divert to Fairbanks, Alaska.

Again, shortly before the shutdown, liquid was spilled on the center pedestal. Attempts to restart the engine were unsuccessful.

In both instances, the aircraft landed safely.

Liquids and computers don’t mix

Analysis of the flight-data recorders following both incidents revealed the electronic engine control ordered the high-pressure shut-off valve to close after inconsistent data from the integrated control panel.

EASA says the spills caused “abnormal operation” of the components in the panels and have issued an interim directive regarding the liquid-free zones in the A350 cockpits.

Airbus has revised the flight manuals for both aircraft types that define the liquid free zone.

The second incident involved a Delta A350 heading to Seoul. Photo: Airbus.

Although a relatively new aircraft, the A350 has proved popular with airlines. Thirty-one airlines were operating a total of 312 A350s at the end of 2019. One of the quirks of the A350 cockpit is that the cupholders are smaller than found on other aircraft types. Airbus, being a good European manufacturer, builds cupholders sized for French coffee rather than US sized coffee.

As has been noted in Business Insider, when aircraft controls were mechanical, spillages did not matter so much. Now, everything is computerized, and everyone knows what happens when a liquid goes into anything computerized.

Consequently, the crew are trained to pass liquids around cockpit components such as the center pedestal.

Also a problem on other aircraft types

The issue isn’t just a problem for operators of the A350. Whenever there are liquids in the cockpit, spillages are bound to occur. Chris Loh in Simple Flying reported last week on an incident on-board a Condor A330 last year. 

In this case, the UK’s Air Accident Investigation Branch found that spilled coffee on the center console led to equipment failure, the smell of electrical burning and smoke in the cockpit. The aircraft diverted safely. The problem of Condor’s coffee cups not fitting into the A330’s cockpit cupholders was mentioned in the report.

What to do?

Ultimately, the only way to stop this is to ban liquids in the cockpit. This has obvious practical implications for the pilots. Another solution might be to ban liquids that aren’t in a screw-top container. That’s fine if your Captain is happy to drink water, not so ideal if they want a tea or coffee. What’s for certain is that this won’t be the last of these types of incidents.