x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Cargo plane cockpit should have kept smoke out, official says

The head of the UAE's civil aviation authority has blamed the fatal UPS crash from last September on poor aircraft design.

Wreckage of the UPS cargo plane litters a military base the day after it crashed last September.
Wreckage of the UPS cargo plane litters a military base the day after it crashed last September.

DUBAI // Faulty aircraft design or manufacture was a major factor in the fatal crash of a UPS plane last September 3, the head of the UAE civil aviation authority said yesterday.

The Boeing 747 cargo plane caught fire soon after taking off from Dubai for Germany, and the smoke and fumes seeped into the cockpit, cutting off the two pilots' oxygen and blinding them.

Both men were killed when the aircraft crash landed near Dubai International Airport.

"The smoke was not supposed to penetrate into the cockpit because the cockpit should be a sealed environment," said Saif al Suwaidi, the director general of the General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA).

"This is more related to the design or the manufacture of the aircraft, and this is the main identified reason for the crash," he said. His comments came as the GCAA issued a preliminary report on the accident yesterday.

Boeing directed all queries about the accident to the GCAA.

"By international convention, only the investigative authority may comment on an open investigation," said Boeing spokesperson Julie O'Donnell.

The fire warning on the UPS 747 went off within half an hour of the plane's take-off.

When the pilots radioed in their emergency, Bahrain air traffic control invited them to land in Doha, Qatar.

Instead, they turned back to Dubai, a decision that Mr al Suwaidi questioned.

"This is one of the pilot's mistakes," he said. "I don't know why he decided to go back to Dubai."

By the time the stricken plane neared Dubai, smoke and fumes had crept into the cockpit, and the air conditioning, oxygen and flight control systems all failed, the report said.

After the oxygen masks stopped functioning, the captain left his seat in search of portable oxygen canisters, according to media reports.

With so much smoke still in the cockpit, the co-pilot could not see the flight instruments, nor change his radio frequency to that of Dubai air traffic control.

The plane disappeared from radar, then crashed in the Nad al Sheba military camp.

It had been carrying lithium batteries, which are highly flammable but were not declared as hazardous cargo on the flight, according to media reports.

The rules on how to ship lithium batteries, which are used in mobile phones and computers, have sparked debate among transportation authorities around the world before and since the UPS crash incident.

The UAE has issued new regulations on how to package lithium batteries and where to store them on planes, said Mr al Suwaidi.

He added that it was not certain when the final report on the crash would be completed.

chuang@thenational.ae