A fire suppression system failed in a British Airways hangar at Heathrow Airport earlier today. Video footage shows the hangar floor covered in a sea of fire retardant foam. The incident occurred while a British Airways 777-200ER was parked in the hangar.
A large mess for someone to clean up
The footage, posted on Aeronews, shows foam spraying from at least three outlets. One outlet was directing foam over the parked aircraft’s wheels. The 777-200ER in the hangar was G-YMMB. The footage shows a hangar mostly empty of people, and it does not appear there were any injuries.
Simple Flying approached British Airways regarding the incident who told us:
One of our fire prevention systems in our hanger experienced a technical issue causing foam to be dispersed as part of a safety feature.
Challenges in managing fire prevention and safety to Heathrow
The size of Heathrow and the amount of activity there present some unique fire prevention challenges.
“There is a huge amount of change at Heathrow on a daily basis,” Gary Moorshead, chief fire officer of Heathrow’s fire service, previously told Airport Technology.
Heathrow’s in-house fire fighting service is responsible for all aviation and non-aviation fire-related safety planning and responses inside the airport’s precincts. It does this within the frameworks set by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) guidelines and National Firefighter operational standards.
As Heathrow has grown and become busier than ever, the airport has continued to invest in fire safety and fire fighting equipment. That includes hardware such as vehicles, alarms, PPE equipment, and automated systems like fire suppression systems.
“We are always collaborating with manufacturers of appliance technology and equipment in order to maintain a rapid response to incidents,” said Mr Mooshead.
Heathrow has a history of false alarms
Heathrow has long had a reputation as a source of false fire alarms and callouts. Today’s incident has had minimal impact on no-one other than British Airways. But when automated fire systems go rogue in the wrong places, it can have a significant impact on a lot of people.
In July 2017, massive disruptions occurred when a false fire alarm caused Terminal 3 to be evacuated. Passengers already on planes waiting to be pushed back were taken off and escorted out of the terminal. Dozens of planes were delayed. Some misinformation saw some passengers told it was a bomb scare.
But the London Fire Brigade thinks that for all the false alarms, automated alarms and fire suppression systems are powerful early warning tools and have the potential to save lives.
Maybe minor, but probably expensive
The problem for British Airways is that today’s incident may be an expensive malfunction. G-YMMB is still flying, albeit on a slimmed-down schedule. The aircraft jetted in from New York Kennedy on Thursday and has been parked at Heathrow since. The plane may now need to hang around Heathrow for a while longer.
While seemingly minor, the aircraft could need a thorough check, particularly around its undercarriage and engines. The engines were not covered at the time of the incident. At best, it’s going to be an enormous clean up for hangar staff clearing away the mess on the floor.
Today’s incident continues a series of minor events besetting British Airways. The cause of the failure of the hangar fire suppression system is being investigated.
What do you make of yesterday’s incident? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!