back to article Airbus issues patch to prevent A350 airliner fuel tanks exploding

Airbus has issued an emergency patch to stop its A350 airliners from exploding. The fix, an update to the aircraft's Master Minimum Equipment List (MMEL), adds a number of items to in-cockpit displays to prohibit affected airliners from flying. "Recently, an overheat failure mode of the the A350 hydraulic Engine Driven Pump ( …

Good that it's fixed, but also terrifying. This is why I try not to use planes (or lifts or escalators)

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Not sure I'd call it terrifying, since I don't think it's actually ever happened.

Maybe this came from a near-miss, where some of the circumstances occurred to risk it happening, and disaster was averted. Or maybe it came up in a periodic safety review.

But the reason that flying is safer than almost any other form of transport is that aviation generally learns from its near-misses, as well as its disasters.

I heard an interview with a pilot who said that he sometimes has to report a couple of incidents a month to regulators. I don't know if that's because he's particularly conscientious or it's normal. But mostly these are minor incidents that they can log, and if something is happening a lot, then they can look at changing procedures in order to correct the issue.

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Anonymous Coward

Do you drive a car?

You know, that activity where any of many of hundreds of peoples' minor cockups could end your life in a matter of seconds on any given day? Ever fall down the stairs? I assure you, you take greater risks on a daily (perhaps even hourly) basis than flying or taking a lift/escalator. This is intended less as snark, and more as... don't let yourself not enjoy life over nonsense like this.

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Re: Do you drive a car?

I don't drive except in emergencies, it's bad for the environment. I cycle or use public transport. I realise there are bigger risks I take all the time, but I can't do anything about them, and they're not necessarily as severe. For example, escalators have a low risk (except at peak hours or in china, but even still) but the severity of being ground up by the internals? I'm terrified. It's irrational, I know, I have something like traumataphobia. But I can avoid that. Travelling is necessary, living in the possible path of yellowstone, gamma ray bursts, meteorites is necessary.

I try to get over it. I just don't feel right on an escalator is all. Also, blah blah environment.

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Stop

Re: Do you drive a car?

@samzeman: "I don't drive except in emergencies"

Exactly the conditions you shouldn't be driving; you lack the experience of regular driving, and you are under additional stress. If only a software patch would keep you off the road in such circumstances.

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Re: Do you drive a car?

You're actually arguing against yourself - if you cycle, you actually take on orders of magnitude more risk than even driving a car, never mind how much more hazardous cars are compared to flight...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Do you drive a car?

Your viewpoints/concerns on the matter are grounded in reality, which is better than I get back out of most people. So long as you're able to live a fulfilling life, there's nothing wrong with any of that. No two humans see things exactly the same.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Do you drive a car?

At the very least, his contribution to a major accident would be minimal... very little chance of a cyclist causing collateral damage when hit. Also, perhaps even more so on a bike, (provided you have good situational awareness), you have more direct control over what you're doing/where you're going than just about any other form of transportation.

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Re: Do you drive a car?

"You're actually arguing against yourself - if you cycle, you actually take on orders of magnitude more risk than even driving a car,"

Actually its the same order of risk as a pedestrian. The car stats are distorted because they are usually done by miles rather than time (as are flying stats). And, of course, if you drive a car you are a considerable risk to cyclists and pedestrians. So not getting behind a wheel reduces the risk to all other road users.

Its the good thing to do. It also reduces the probably larger risk of killing/shortening lives by pumping out pollution. And, of course the exercise you get walking/cycling enhances life expectancy rather more than any increased risk of being killed in a collision.

Pretending that using a car makes the planet safer or your life longer is an illusion I'm afraid.

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Re: Do you drive a car?

"At the very least, his contribution to a major accident would be minimal..."

Whilst what you say is true to a certain degree, it's not *entirely* accurate, as shown here:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-41028321

You are massively more exposed on a bicycle in traffic than you are in a car, any injuries you sustain from any minor accident will be significantly worse than those of the driver of the car / van / truck which hits you.

Versus pedestrians however, seems cyclists do still have an edge.

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Re: Do you drive a car?

'It also reduces the probably larger risk of killing/shortening lives by pumping out pollution.'

I have seen an alternative take on this, although I haven't had a chance to verify the numbers. Essentially fuel is a very efficient method of storing and transferring energy, whereas food isn't. Also food production and transportation takes a not insignificant amount of energy, which involves producing pollution. Consequently it is possible for a cyclist to be responsible for more pollution than a driver, it's just not in the immediate local area.

It was on one of a series of youtube videos called 'Adam Ruins X' which seem to have been at least moderately well researched, but as I say I haven't run the numbers myself so I'm not sure how valid the argument is, e.g. does it just apply when comparing a mad keen cyclist with someone who drives 1/4 mile work.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Do you drive a car?

" And, of course, if you drive a car you are a considerable risk to cyclists and pedestrians. "

Only if you look it from statistics as they don't show anything else but the amount of killed/injured.

Here in North we had 7 dead pedestrians last year (out of 450k people in town) and out of those 7, 6 basically killed themselves by running against red light to the traffic or things like that. Actual cause of death: Stupidity.

The last one was the only one where the pedestrian was actually obeying the traffic rules and thus innocent. Of course the numbers are very small but it's not a sample, it's all cases and therefore statistically significant.

I have a hunch that the situation isn't different anywhere else, either. Pedestrians everywhere are very bad at obeying traffic rules and that causes 'accidents'.

So the biggest risk to pedestrians aren't cars, but pedestrians themselves.

Unpopular truth which is never said as it's not politically palatable and definitely isn't visible in any standard statistics, they aren't made that way: The idea is to make car owners guilty to anything that happens regardless of actually being guilty.

That is intentional politics, it doesn't just happen.

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Re: Do you drive a car?

I don't drive except in emergencies

Just as well you don't have a job that requires you to drive then..

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Coat

Re: Do you drive a car?

@SkippyBing - Unless you think that cars are driven by zombies, you should only include the extra food consumed to fuel the transportation running/cycling.

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Holmes

Re: Do you drive a car?

Someone asked the local council in Farnborough where they got their accident figures and they said from Hampshire police, so they asked Hampshire police where they got their accident figures from and they said...

"The Council".

This was after a road was classified as an accident blackspot "after a number of fatalities" - which was strange as it was one of the most accident-free parts of town! Surprisingly since it was between the shops near FAST and the roundabout near the Aerospace Center, where cars often pull out without really looking, there had only been one fatality in the ten years I lived there - and that was a drunk who stepped out from between parked cars at night, and the driver had no chance to see him let alone try to avoid him.

It was also around the time that various police forces were found to be counting each car involved in any incidents as individual "hits" in the statistics - so if a lout walked down the road keying a dozen cars, that would be a dozen car 'accidents' even if the owners/drivers were tucked up in bed asleep when it happened!

Lies, Damn lies, and Statistics.

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Re: Do you drive a car?

'Unless you think that cars are driven by zombies, you should only include the extra food consumed to fuel the transportation running/cycling.'

I believe that was taken into account but the delta should be quite large. A quick google shows 29 calories for a 15 minute drive, which is how long it takes me to drive the ~8 miles to my nearest place of work. Running that takes me about an hour, but on the conservative side that's 800 calories. Cycling would appear to be around 300 calories from another quick google. So you're looking at about a 10 times greater calorie burn cycling vs driving and 27 times for running.

The sources the programme used are here: http://www.trutv.com/shows/adam-ruins-everything/blog/adams-sources/adam-ruins-going-green.html

I suspect they're considering someone with a omnivore lifestyle as meat production consumes a lot of energy. Vegetarians can probably be smug about their food's energy consumption. But they don't get to eat bacon so their loss.

Just to be clear I'm not saying I buy the argument but I suspect it's more closely balanced than people may think.

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Re: Do you drive a car?

"... don't let yourself not enjoy life over nonsense like this".

I'm sure your advice is well-meant, but such issues are really a private matter between each person's forebrain and his/her amygdala.

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Hmm, so this patch cannot be applied over-the-air?

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The fix, as described: a simple change to a list, could be delivered OTA, but for the undoubtedly stupefying amount of paperwork involved. Replacing the suspect components on the other hand... that's a hardware issue!

Happy to report my recent flight on board an SIA A350 went without observable hitch, let alone thermal runaway failure modes. I was keeping an eye on the carbon fibre reinforced wings - my kids were more impressed with the touchscreen media systems. Lovely plane.

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Coat

Why not? It's an emergency hot fix....

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Anonymous Coward

The should have got them in for the Note 7.

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Re: Lovely plane

It is a pretty cool bird indeed. The looks alone...

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"The should have got them in for the Note 7."

If the Note 7 had had a cooling system in its fuel tank (the battery) perhaps the recall wouldn't have been necessary. [Yes, yes, I know that isn't actually what happened].

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Coat

Patching french rubbish.

Hmm, so this patch cannot be applied over-the-air?

If they did apply the patch over the air, the aircraft would have to land and take-off again before it was updated.

Mine's the BCOD (Blue Coat Of Death).

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Stop <> prevent

"Airbus has issued an emergency patch to stop its A350 airliners from exploding."

This suggests that A350s are exploding, which they're not. The emergency patch will prevent A350 airliners from exploding.

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Re: Stop <> prevent

Maybe not. They may explode for another reason.

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Re: Stop <> prevent

There's much to like about El Reg but the clickbait stupidity of its headline writers is definitely not on the list. The entire publication would be lifted into the next league—where arguably it belongs—if it would simply stop the clumsy, infantile puns (they are rarely clever and never funny) and most especially do NOT print deliberately misleading headlines about important topics. The next time a manufacturer issues a software upgrade to its planes' terrain detection systems, will you feel comfortable with a headline screaming: "Boeing fixes code to stop its aircraft piling into mountainsides"?

I daresay the publishers may still envision their audience as spotty nerds who cannot talk to girls and guffaw like third-formers at silly jokes—but the truth is those guys grew up many years ago and now it's the Reg that looks foolish. Time to pack away your juvenile keyboards.

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Re: Stop <> prevent

FFS, I come here for the puns.

I work more hours that I care to think about with people who are more concerned about being seen as "professionals" than solving problems, so I greatly appreciate a site that continues to poke fun at events, yet does a good job to then dig deep after the headline.

I thus disagree. Puns are just as much part of it as good journalism.

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Flame

Re: Stop <> prevent

The entire publication would be lifted into the next league—where arguably it belongs—if it would simply stop the clumsy, infantile puns...

I read the stories precisely because of the puns. DO NOT CHANGE!

There. In much the same way reporting should be fair and balanced, so too should comments.

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Mushroom

"discourage airliners from exploding"

Anyway, reading carefully, it is only the fuel tank that explodes. :-)

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(Written by Reg staff)

Re: Re: Stop <> prevent

Given that the original EASA safety directive (go and find it, it won't take you long) specifically references the risk of explosion, as I quoted in the article, I have no idea where you've got this false notion that mentioning the identified risk is clickbait. Unless, of course, you read the headline alone and immediately leapt into the comments section to show off how 'superior' you believe yourself to be.

If, say, Boeing issued an update to prevent an identified risk of CFIT with the autopilot engaged, then yes, I would very happily write "Boeing fixes code to stop its aircraft piling into mountain sides". Because that's what would be happening there.

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Re: Stop <> prevent

@gazthejourno: "Boeing fixes code to stop prevent its aircraft piling into mountain sides"

FTFY

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Headmaster

Re: Stop <> prevent

Actually, "stop" immediately "grated on my ears" as well as soon as I read it. The implication that they would be otherwise exploding left right and centre is just too strong, even if it's a somewhat subjective interpretation. What isn't already moving doesn't need to be stopped after all. And frankly, "prevent" isn't much better - it carries much the same connotation of altering the course of something that was already going to happen. I'd personally prefer something along the lines of "Airbus eliminates fuel tank explosion risk factor" but I do concede it isn't as snappy a title, all this largely being splitting hairs anyway...

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Re: Stop <> prevent

"Airbus eliminates fuel tank explosion risk factor"

"Airbus reduces fuel tank explosion risk factor"

ftfy.

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Re: Stop <> prevent

@DropBear: In the context of the article stop can't apply to something that hasn't started because there is nothing, as yet, to be stopped. Prevent can only be applied before something has started because if you try to apply prevent to something that has already started then it was not prevented.

I agree that prevent isn't ideal though, because it's comprehensive and implies that the outcome can never happen even though only one of many potential causes has been addressed - it really needs the addition of the clause 'for this particular reason'.

I don't think eliminate really gets us anywhere better.

I also don't think it's just splitting hairs either - there was fundamental difference between what was meant and what was actually said.

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Meh

Re: Stop <> prevent - where's the "possibly"?

This "fix" only stops the plane from taking off if the fault is present before flight. Way I read it if the specified fault develops during flight then a fireball in the sky is still all to possible; like a Boeing with the lithium batteries mounted in the fuel tank.

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An aeroplane is a massive collection of spare parts all travelling into the same direction at the same time.

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Anonymous Coward

So they’ve moved on from rivets? [YouTube]

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The corollary for helicopters (from my military days): "A collection parts flying in loose formation in the mostly same direction, at the same time."

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I was always told that an aircraft is a massive collection of lowest bid contractor parts flying in loose formation.

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An aeroplane is a massive collection of spare parts all..

..supplied by the lowest-cost bidder.

Or is that only NASA spacecraft?

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I Am Not An Aeronautical Engineer

But, to the casual observer on the Clapham Omnibus, it would perhaps be thought that the best, and only, thing to put in a fuel tank is fuel (and inert gas)? Obviously there must be reasons why it's felt to be a good thing.

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Re: I Am Not An Aeronautical Engineer

It's a convenient way of dealing with the heat in the hydraulic fluid - transfer it to the fuel and then burn the fuel and throw it out of the back of the engine. Makes the engine (very slightly) more efficient and saves the drag of an extra cooling system for the hydraulics.

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Re: I Am Not An Aeronautical Engineer

Obviously Airbus have customised their A350 fleet with some sweet liquid cooling. Now they just need to add some clear panels and tasteful LED lighting to the wings to properly show off their pimped rigs.

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Re: I Am Not An Aeronautical Engineer

Wasn't there a problem a few years ago which was thought to be due to ice crystals forming in the fuel? Cooling the hydraulics and warming the fuel (a little) sounds like win + win. As long as it doesn't go too far....

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Re: I Am Not An Aeronautical Engineer

It also helps prevent icing in the fuel, although I think that's mainly the job of the fuel/oil heat exchanger.

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Re: I Am Not An Aeronautical Engineer

Wasn't there a problem a few years ago which was thought to be due to ice crystals forming in the fuel?

That was the BA 777 that 'landed*' just short of the runway at Heathrow, I think the issue was the crystals forming/collecting at the point where fuel left the tank for the engine while they were essentially at idle during the descent to land. They'd taken a long route over Siberia through an exceptionally cold layer of air which led to the fuel being cooled beyond the assumptions made in designing the system, as I understand it.

*It was undoubtedly a much better landing than I would have achieved in the circumstances.

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Re: Fuel freezing

If I remember correctly that was the reason that the BA 777 was crash landed/belly flopped at Heathrow.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I Am Not An Aeronautical Engineer

"Makes the engine (very slightly) more efficient "

It's been years since Thermodynamics I, but I would suspect hotter fuel makes the engine slightly *less* efficient.

Granted, on a systems level, dealing with the heat in this manner is probably the most efficient way to deal with it, but that may have more to do with economic concerns, payload capacity, safety, etc...

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Re: I Am Not An Aeronautical Engineer

"It's been years since Thermodynamics I, but I would suspect hotter fuel makes the engine slightly *less* efficient."

It's *more* efficient because it isn't necessary to heat the fuel quite as much. The energy to do that for a bit of fuel comes, crudely speaking, from the combustion of the previous bit of fuel, and therefore it is not usable as output work for the engine. If that next bit of fuel isn't quite as cold, you don't spend as much energy heating it, and therefore you can squeeze a tiny amount more useful work out of that bit of fuel.

And a a bonus, the fuel won't be quite as close to dangerous temperatures like "the traces of water in this fuel are trying to freeze and clog up the fuel pumps with ice crystals".

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