Aviation In Canada

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Smoke in the Cockpit

Smoke in the cockpit is a serious concern. Few people would argue. I wrote about this a while back, speaking more along the lines of fire detection until fatal crash. This time, I just wanted to write a little entry in the blog about how often it happens.

Like the last time I wrote about this, I refered to Swissair's Flight 111 that piled into the waters just off the coast of Nova Scotia. This very high profile incident scared many people, and sparked a spike of smoke or smoke smells in the cockpits. This is a quite normal reaction when something is brought to our attention in such a nasty way -- people all of a sudden start to question things they may have written off in their minds as, "insignificant until it becomes significiant." Now they may just be a little more aware of the significance. The funny thing is public perception.

Pre-Swissair, an airliner diverting for smoke in the cockpit was just a little filler on the corner of the newspaper's 10th page, or a brief mention on the news but no details mentioned. After Swissair's crash, it was front page news every time for a while, and reporters doing the old, "it's the third time since Swissair's MD11 crashed for the same reason!" or, "It's the fourth airliner to divert to a different airport this month!" I checked our unit log book, the document we make entries in about abnormalities in the operation within our region. In the 8 months leading up to the big Swissair one, there was an average of one airliner declaring smoke in the cockpit or smelling a burning sort of smell in the cabin each week. Most of these either declared an emergency or asked for some kind of handling (have the trucks ready, we're landing now; looking to divert to another airport; or perhaps just mentioning it; whatever) and rarely was a big deal made from any angle. There was no significant increase in the overall rate (yes, there were a few more than usual, but not too many), but the heightened awareness of it all in the media really showed through. And that was just in the Moncton FIR. I have no data for this post from other regions in Canada.