American Airlines 787s Covered In Fire Suppression System Malfunction

A dramatic video circulating today shows a fire suppression system malfunctioning in an American Airlines hangar holding two Boeing 787 aircraft. Both planes were quickly covered in special fire-fighting foam.

AA 787
A fire suppression system malfunctioned in a hangar holding two Boeing 787s. Photo: Tom Boon/Simple Flying

Fire suppression system malfunctions in a 787 hangar

Video shows a fire suppression system malfunction that covered two Boeing 787s in foam.  The foam is seen spraying directly on the aircraft and some other equipment. However, there does not appear to be any people in the videos underneath the foam sprays. The incident created quite a mess:

Translation: Foam night in an American Airlines maintenance hangar! The fire-fighting system unexpectedly activated and sprayed foam on Boeing 787s.

Here is another video of the incident posted on Facebook:

OOOPS! Sources say this happened at American Airlines maintenance hangar at Chicago O’Hare (ORD), where the fire…

Posted by Aeronews on Saturday, 16 May 2020

Simple Flying reached out to American Airlines for additional details. American confirmed that there was no damage and no injuries to any employees. The malfunction, however, does require a massive cleanup.

Fire suppression foam

For safety reasons, aircraft hangars are equipped with a fire suppression system. The foam method is especially effective in case of a fire. It can be quickly released and effectively coat most of the hangar, drastically reducing fire damage.

American Getty Hangar
Aircraft hangars need to be equipped with a fire suppression system. Photo: Getty Images

In a hangar, there are plenty of ‘obstructions’ like large aircraft, scaffolding, jacks, and other equipment that can make traditional fire-fighting techniques difficult. Moreover, any kind of fire involving jet fuel can cause significant damage. The motto “better safe than sorry” registers strongly in the aviation industry.

It is unclear what caused this incident to occur. Likely, the system was triggered accidentally. However, sometimes, this foam system is set off intentionally either as a real-world emergency or test/demonstration. For example, here is a fire suppression system test at WestJet’s 787 hangar. Although, the WestJet hangar was empty at the time.

Fires can be very damaging– especially for aircraft. Thus, such a system is necessary within confined spaces like an aircraft hangar. However, such a malfunction can also cause a lot of damage. Thankfully for American Airlines, the damage seems restricted to a big clean-up operation.

These planes will likely stay on the ground a little while longer. After being cleaned, American’s engineers will probably need to inspect both of the aircraft thoroughly. Any leftover residue could be consequential during flight.

Incidents like this have occurred in the past. A couple of weeks ago, British Airways suffered a similar event in a Boeing 777 hangar. Meanwhile, at the end of March, a Delta hangar at LAX suffered an accidental foam discharge.

The Boeing 787s

American Airlines is moving towards streamlining its fleet. For the next couple of years, American’s long-haul fleet will be comprised of only Boeing 777s and 787s. This is a reduction from a large fleet that previously included Airbus A330-200s (now in long-term storage), A330-300s, Boeing 767s, and some 757s.

American Airlines 787-8 Dreamliner
The 787s are one of American’s primary long-haul aircraft. Photo: Getty Images

Compared to those older aircraft, the 787s offer much better operating economics. There are two variants in AA’s fleet, the 787-8 and 787-9 . It is unclear which variants were in this hangar when the incident occurred.

What do you think about this incident? Let us know in the comments!