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Urgent directive to prevent A350 fuel tanks exploding

August 28, 2017 Headline News No Comments Email Email

An emergency airworthiness directive has been issued to operators of Airbus A350s warning them of a possible overheating failure of a hydraulic pump that could cause fuel tanks to explode.

The A350-941 is designed with a hydraulic fluid cooling system in the fuel tanks but the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) says that in certain circumstances, the aircraft’s hydraulic engine-driven pump can generate a “fast” temperature rise of the hydraulic fluid.

The dry wording of the EASA directive does not conceal the severity of the issue:

“This condition, if not detected and corrected, combined with an inoperative Fuel Tank Inerting System (FTIS), could lead to an uncontrolled overheat of the hydraulic fluid, possibly resulting in ignition of the fuel-air mixture in the affected fuel tank.”

Any explosion in a fuel tank would be potentially catastrophic for an airliner.

Airbus has responded by undertaking an in-depth revision of the A350’s master minimum equipment list “that incorporates restrictions to avoid an uncontrolled overheat of the hydraulic system”.

EASA advises that this airworthiness directive is an interim measure and more may follow.

Thirteen operators use A350-900s, which are powered by Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engines, Britain’s The Register reports.

Fuel-air mixes in fuel tanks and their combustibility have been an issue since Trans World Airlines flight 800 (TWA 800) exploded and crashed into the Atlantic Ocean on 17 July 1996, 12 minutes after take-off from John F. Kennedy International Airport on a scheduled international flight to Rome via Paris. All 230 people aboard died in the third-deadliest aviation accident in US territory.

After a four-year investigation, accident investigators from the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) concluded that the probable cause of the accident was an explosion of flammable fuel-air vapours in a fuel tank.

Written by Peter Needham

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