EU orders Airbus A350 operators to install anti-coffee spillage covers in airliner cockpits

Wouldn't a child's sippy cup be cheaper?

Airbus has solved the ongoing problem of cack-handed airline pilots spilling coffee over vital cockpit electronics – with a plastic cover.

Following “inadvertent liquid spillage” on engine control panels in the flight decks of Airbus A350 airliners, the Franco-German-Spanish multinational company has also waterproofed engine controls that are most likely to be in the firing line of an unintentional drenching.

The low-tech solution to the accidental destruction of hi-tech systems was revealed in a revised EU airworthiness directive (AD) published last week.


Captain's coffee calamity causes transatlantic flight diversion


On top of banning pilots from bringing drinks anywhere near the central cockpit console housing the engine and radio controls, Airbus devoted considerable time and effort to making sure caffeine-addicted pilots ignoring the ban wouldn’t be able to short out vital aircraft components – by ordering airlines to install a cover over those controls.

“This cover allows to protect the [integrated control panel] completely, including engine master levers, thumbwheels and rotary knobs. This cover should be removed during critical flight phases (e.g. take-off, approach and landing, handling of ECAM procedures), but must be installed during other flight phases,” said the AD.

As well as the new lid, Airbus also developed a “water resistant” engine control panel to help guard against drinks spillages shorting out the engines and causing them to fail. Despite these measures, the EU Aviation Safety Agency remains unconvinced that clumsy humans are now prevented from flinging liquids at delicate electronics, warning: “Further AD action may follow.”

The move follows reports from earlier this year that A350 cockpit electronics really cannot cope with being soaked in piping hot coffee. Two airliners operated by US and Asian carriers suffered uncommanded engine shutdowns while in flight as a result of drinks spillages. Both incidents happened because the master engine control switch short-circuited and began sending a rapid succession of “engine on”/“engine off” commands after being soaked in pilots’ drinks.

Short circuits caused by liquid spillages are not as uncommon as one would hope in the world of airlines: last year a Condor Airbus A330 was forced to turn around halfway through a transatlantic flight after a clumsy captain spilled his coffee into the aircraft’s radios, melting two of them. An investigation found that the airline’s standard coffee cup size was too small to fit into dedicated cup holders in the flight deck.

Aviation sources suggested to El Reg that a simpler and cheaper solution to all this palaver would be to issue personalised beverage containers to airline pilots. ®

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