Butterfingers! Airbus A350s Lose Engines after Drinks Spilled

Airbus A350 console with coffee stainTwo Airbus A350 XWB airliners on international flights, one last November and another on January 21st, 2020, had their starboard Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engines shut down en route and fail to restart when pilots attempted the recovery procedure.  The most recent incident was on a Delta A350 bound for Seoul, which diverted to and landed safely in Fairbanks, Alaska after the engine failure.  The airline which experienced the failure in November 2019 has not been identified, but is believed to be a Korea-based Asiana A350 flying from Seoul to Singapore, which diverted to Manila on November 9th.

In both cases, the engines shut down some time after a pilot spilled a drink on the centre console where engine controls are located.  The Delta flight lost its engine 15 minutes after a drink was spilled on the console, and the suspected Asiana’s engine shut down an hour after tea was spilled on the console.  In both cases, the flight recorder indicated the electronic engine controller had closed the high-pressure shut-off valve after receiving inconsistent output from the control panel.  In both cases the integrated control panel and electronic engine controller were replaced and the planes returned to service.

Flight Global reports that Airbus and will send a communication to operators “on recommended practices for handling beverages on the flightdeck”.  Perhaps they should install more cup holders.

Univac 1108 maintenance panelI once saw a programmer spill an entire cup full of regular Pepsi-Cola onto the shelf below a Univac 1108 maintenance panel, where it ran down into the electronics below.  Nothing appeared to happen and neither he nor I ever said a word about it while we were still working there.

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Author: John Walker

Founder of Ratburger.org, Autodesk, Inc., and Marinchip Systems. Author of The Hacker's Diet. Creator of www.fourmilab.ch.

18 thoughts on “Butterfingers! Airbus A350s Lose Engines after Drinks Spilled”

  1. John Walker:
    the engines shut down some time after a pilot spilled a drink on the centre console where engine controls are located.

    This would be just plain hilarious if it weren’t so dangerous. Having critical controls this vulnerable is criminal negligence.

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  2. John Walker:
    In both cases the integrated control panel and electronic engine controller were replaced and the planes returned to service.

    I don’t see how this fixes the glitch, even if they did install some cup holders. Some pilot could still spill something in there, especially if there happens to be a bump while the drink is over the console.

    The console won’t provide much consolation if the plane crashes.

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  3. Haakon Dahl:
    … Boeing, which simply sheds unwanted engines.

    From the linked article:

    She said the pilot announced, “We are trying to determine whether to go into the next airport (Phoenix) or continue to San Diego.” Later he said, “We’re 55 minutes away from San Diego and were [sic] going in.”

    I’m not sure “going in” is the phrase I’d have used, but then I’m not an airline pilot.  But to be fair, if the pilot’s only indication was that the engine had shut down and there was no indication of other problems such as fire, a fuel leak, or loss of hydraulic pressure, it was entirely within regulations to continue the flight on the two remaining engines.  Not only are passengers happy to get to the destination they paid for, but it’s usually faster and less expensive to repair an aircraft at an airport where the airline has a base.

    In February, 2005, British Airways Flight 268 from Los Angeles International to London Heathrow had a compressor stall on its left inner engine moments after takeoff.  The engine emitted a belch of fire and the pilots shut it down.  After consulting with the airline’s dispatcher, they elected to continue the flight on three engines.  While crossing the Atlantic, the flight encountered unfavourable winds and diverted to Manchester due to low fuel.  The FAA threatened to fine the airline, but British Airways appealed, noting that the flight violated no ICAO or UK rule.  BA agreed to revise its crew training in fuel management for three engine operation.

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  4. drlorentz:

    John Walker:
    In both cases the integrated control panel and electronic engine controller were replaced and the planes returned to service.

    I don’t see how this fixes the glitch, even if they did install some cup holders. Some pilot could still spill something in there, especially if there happens to be a bump while the drink is over the console.

    The console won’t provide much consolation if the plane crashes.

    Did you write “the console won’t provide consolation”? Isn’t that what a console does? Console me.

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  5. I guess we have to redo the old saying to go: “… and the dog is there to bite the pilot if he tries to drink anything.”

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  6. drlorentz:

    JohnnyF:
    It would be OK for the younger passengers to drive, they all use sippy cups.

    Lots of adults use sippy cups for their coffee these days. I wonder if those pilots were.

    Lids on cups is company policy where I work, and I hardly ever leave my office.

    It is sort of a shame.  It used to be that the draftsman could tell that the engineer actually had spent time looking over the markups from the coffee stains on the plans.

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  7. John Walker:
    The FAA threatened to fine the airline, but British Airways appealed, noting that the flight violated no ICAO or UK rule. BA agreed to revise its crew training in fuel management for three engine operation.

    Boeing is like that.  Lost an engine on take-off from LAX bound for England.  Boss, you wanna bring it back in?  Are you deaf?  I said England.

    On the other hand, if it were anywhere but LA, perhaps they would have returned.

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  8. I can imagine the Frenchies at AB stalking around the office decrying their fate — “But zat is what ze sau-sair is forrr!  Do zees heezens not use a sau-sair?!”

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  9. Haakon Dahl:
    I can imagine the Frenchies at AB stalking around the office decrying their fate — “But zat is what ze sau-sair is forrr!  Do zees heezens not use a sau-sair?!”

    That’s some expert froggie dialect writing!

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