Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 June 2019

Dubai airport water cannon salute mishap left A320 plane damaged, aviation report shows

A malfunction in water pressure led to an external door being blown into the cabin, injuring a passenger, according to an official incident report

Water salutes like this Air India flight at Indira Gandhi International airport are commonly used to mark the opening of new routes or special occasions. Barcroft India / Getty Images
Water salutes like this Air India flight at Indira Gandhi International airport are commonly used to mark the opening of new routes or special occasions. Barcroft India / Getty Images

A passenger plane was damaged when a water cannon salute at Dubai International Airport went wrong – blowing the hatch door into the cabin and injuring a passenger.

Saudia flight SV566 was hit by the high-pressure hose stream during a celebratory arrival to mark Saudi Arabia’s National Day.

Details of the incident, which was not made public at the time, emerged in a newly released report by the UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority.

According to the report, the Airbus A320 came in to land on September 20 last year and was met by two fire trucks that had been stationed to welcome it.

Firefighters started spraying water jets from either side, forming an arc over the plane.

But one malfunctioned, causing the high-pressure water jet to spray upwards and downwards erratically.

“The aircraft was struck by the water jet causing the left forward over-wing emergency exit hatch to open. The hatch fell into the cabin,” according to the report. This resulted in the left over-wing emergency slide ramp being activated.

The aircraft was struck by the water jet causing the left forward over-wing emergency exit hatch to open. The hatch fell into the cabin

GCAA report

The water salute was a surprise to the pilots and crew because they had not been informed. According to the GCAA report, it was “particularly unexpected” because Saudi Arabia’s national day occurred three days later, on September 23.

Because “there was no information available, the flight crew continued taxiing until they became aware that the left forward over-wing emergency exit hatch was open”, the report said.

“Suspecting that a passenger had opened the emergency exit hatch, they immediately stopped the aircraft, applied the parking brake, and shut both engines down to ensure that any exiting passenger would not be endangered by an operating engine.”

The aircraft was then towed to the gate with the slide ramp attached, where the passengers disembarked normally.

One passenger seated in the adjacent window seat was slightly injured as a result of the hatch falling into the plane, the report said. “The passenger received medical attention and decided to continue their journey after being medically cleared.”

The failure of the water turret to follow the command of the controller appeared to have occurred before, according to the report.

The intent of the water salute was “poorly communicated”, acording to the report, resulting in a breakdown of information and confusion on the ground and inside the aircraft.

“The flow of information is critical, as unsuspecting passengers may panic and behave erratically. This may lead to unsafe actions by passengers and could pose a threat to the safety of those on board.”

Although water-cannon salutes are an airline industry tradition to mark special events like the first or last flight of an airline, or other notable events, they remain a “non-normal” practice, the GCAA report said.

They occasionally result in unexpected incidents, such as in 2015 when a Virgin Atlantic plane was grounded after fire fighters sprayed thick foam instead of water during a botched salute to mark the plane’s inaugural flight to Atlanta, Georgia.

“The investigation reviewed several incidents that occurred during water salutes, which resulted in damage to aircraft and had also led to decisions to halt the practice at some airports.”

The GCAA recommended airport operators, airlines and airport fire services carry out a risk assessment to ensure damage and potential injury is avoided.

A spokesperson for Dubai Airports said it carried out an extensive review into its procedures after the incident and confirmed that “mechanical failure of the water turret controller on one of its fire trucks” led to the activation of an over-wing exit chute on an arriving aircraft in September last year”.

“Immediately following the incident, and working with the vehicle manufacturer and regulatory authorities, Dubai Airports conducted a thorough inspection of its fleet of fire trucks and reviewed its water salute procedures to ensure the fault was not in evidence elsewhere and to prevent any future recurrence.”

Updated: April 10, 2019 06:14 PM

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