You've probably seen the video that just turned up of the A380 evacuation trial last year - it's fascinating viewing. But I think that trial should be the last one.
At risk of boring you, I'll just remind you that I took part in the trial, blogged about it a few hours later here, and wrote a piece in Flight International a week later. But since then I've been thinking about it a lot more and I'm pretty convinced that there are much better ways of doing this work.
Alll it really proved was that on a given Sunday morning, with a given group of volunteers, and in a given aircraft door configuration everything went OK. If I'd fallen over and blocked the aisle and Airbus hadn't hit the 90s target then another 853 volunteers would have had to do it all again the next week. And if they had then succeeded you'd have a 50% success rate on a statistically insignificant sample of something that had damn well better be 100% successful if it ever happens for real. What on earth is the point of that?
Well, the answer I suppose is that at least it shows that it can be done. Fine, but suppose there is a combination of non-accessible exits that unexpectedly causes a pile-up in the cabin? Or suppose everybody decides to use the A380's invitingly wide staircase to change decks in search of an exit? Or the aircraft is canted over and people are too frightened to jump? Or whatever? What then?
Well, the fact is that all that can computer-modelled very accurately over and over again. I think Prof Ed Galea and his department at the University of Greenwich in London are the leaders in the field. Their Exodus and Smartfire tools are remarkable as you can see in these animations. And they have produced a mountain of literature supporting their work.
Using these tools we would really know what might happen in an A380, or 787, or a 747-400 in a variety of situations and could make sensible assessments and regulations. I'm sure the regulators know that perfectly well - they're just unwilling to bite the PR bullet of telling the world that the full-scale tests don't make sense.
Odd coincidence: I first met Ed Galea in 1989 soon after I joined Flight. I took the train back from Greenwich to our office. As I stood waiting in Greenwich station another passenger train went by on the opposite track with its underside completely engulfed in flames. The railway staff were as astounded as me and soon alarms were going off everywhere. I don't know what actually happened - but I assume there was a full-scale evacuation at whatever station comes after Greenwich!