UPDATE: Overhead bin problem bites Airbus


UPDATED to include comment from Airbus (see below).

US Airways’ employee newsletter usually contains at least one or two juicy nuggets about the carrier that you won’t find anywhere else. This week, the airline reveals that the locks on the overhead bins of recently-delivered Airbus narrowbodies do not latch well, leading to lots of door slamming by passengers. Upon landing, the bin latches vibrate and create noise that concerns customers.

For better or worse, US Airways is my hometown airline, and I fly the carrier regularly. On a recent trip, I saw first-hand that the latches were a problem. But in this instance, a passenger couldn’t actually open the bin, and it held up the de-planing process by several precious minutes. The FAs, who came to the rescue, complained aloud that the latches have been a long-running problem.

So what is US Airways doing about it? As you’ll see from the carrier’s statement, the problem is not unique to US Airways. Indeed, it’s a worldwide issue that Airbus is grappling with.

Says US Airways:

US Air A320.jpg“We noticed this problem on new delivery single-aisle Airbus aircraft. We experienced a decrease in bin latch reliability and contacted Airbus to work through the details of modifying or creating a new latch design, as this is a problem with the fleet worldwide and is being managed by Airbus.

The first attempt by Airbus produced an unacceptable latch which was rejected by US [Airways]. We have evaluated the second redesign and are scheduled to receive a set of these newly designed bin latches next month.

These will be installed and field tested on one of our aircraft and if no problems develop, parts will be available to start retrofitting our fleet in the beginning of the first quarter 2011. The information about the noise being created from the bin latches is new information and will be evaluated during the trial test phase of this project to make sure this issue has been rectified as well.”

Airbus admits some operators have reported in-service issues with A320 family aircraft overhead bin door latches. But the European airframer believes the problem stems from passengers’ frequent over-loading of bins. It is probably no coincidence that the latch problem has surfaced at a time when more and more carriers are charging passengers for checked luggage, prompting passengers to carry bigger loads on board the aircraft. Interiors specialist FACC supplies the overhead bins for A320 family aircraft.

Says Airbus:

“Some operators have reported in-service issues with A320-family aircraft overhead bin door latches. Airbus, together with the bin supplier, has investigated the reasons for the reported latch issues. Airbus believes that the main root cause is the deformation of the overhead bin due to overloading, beyond the aircraft specification. Airbus therefore recommends operators not to overload the overhead bins.

Furthermore, Airbus has been in close contact with the affected operators and is already working on improvement scenarios. A latch modification will be tested for a 3-4 month period from end of July 2010. In parallel an overhead bin structural modification will be tested at the supplier. Based on the feedback from the in-service and structural tests, a design improvement is planned to be implemented in Q2 2011, for both retro-fit and line-fit embodiment.”

(Picture above found here.)

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23 Responses to UPDATE: Overhead bin problem bites Airbus

  1. EG June 25, 2010 at 3:02 pm #

    I’m waiting for first the personal injury lawsuit resulting from an overloaded bin or failed latch.

    I seriously doubt the airlines could find a sympathetic jury anywhere.

  2. Mary Kirby June 25, 2010 at 10:00 pm #

    God, you’re right. Door slips open, bags crash on head, airline blames latch, passenger blames airline, and jury sides with passenger, who no doubt is holding a six month old child at the time. Egads. Airbus’ phrasing is key – airlines need to stop overloading the bins, i.e., airlines need to stop allowing passengers to overload the bins. The fault is on the airline. Very well worded statement from the airframer.

  3. MoJoh June 26, 2010 at 12:53 am #

    Slow news day?

  4. Uwe June 26, 2010 at 4:57 am #

    I’ve heard that Airbus is looking into a rigorous solution
    to this problem reaching beyond simply fixing the latches:
    http://www.miltek.de/Elektromechanische-Ballenpressen-270.aspx

  5. 7K7 June 28, 2010 at 7:37 am #

    How comes this isn’t a problem with the bins on other types of airliner? Surely they get overloaded too?

  6. Mary Kirby June 28, 2010 at 7:51 am #

    Just heard from FACC. Here is their statement: “FACC is aware of an issue involving overhead bin latches on A320 Family aircraft, and our analysis with Airbus has shown that this is due to overloading of the bin, and does not impact flight safety.”

    Separately, it’s my understanding (not confirmed) that the problem is largely focused in the US, where carriers have implemented checked baggage policies. It doesn’t answer your question, however: what about the bins on other types of airliners? I need to do a bit more digging.

  7. Jetcal1 June 28, 2010 at 11:15 am #

    I would bet the root cause of these failures will be tied to checked baggage policies.

    Any takers?

  8. 7K7 June 28, 2010 at 2:40 pm #

    Thanks.

  9. 7K7 June 28, 2010 at 2:46 pm #

    But that still doesn’t address the difference in effect on their different types. That airline operates other Airbus models, Boeings and the Embraer 190. The must operate the same checked baggage policy on these, but the problem only occurs on the A320s.

  10. Mary Kirby June 28, 2010 at 3:07 pm #

    I wonder if it has anything to do with where the aircraft are deployed.

    Just trying to think of all variables, in addition to the possibility that there could be either A) a design problem or B) the design – under normal circumstances – is fine, but needs to be strengthened in light of pax abuse (and that Emb and Boeing bin latches are naturally, for whatever reason, able to handle the abuse).

    Are we missing anything? I’ve tapped US Airways on this, and am still waiting to hear back.

  11. Jetcal1 June 28, 2010 at 3:08 pm #

    7K7,
    Good question, and I am certainly no expert. (However, I won’t let that small detail stop me!)

    1. There could be a difference in latch design
    2. There could be a bad lot of latches out there
    3. There could be differences in the legs flown by the aircraft with differences in load factors affecting the amount of weight and size of the itmes put overhead. (Your other aircraft question.)
    4. Are other domestic Airbus operators complaining?
    5. Did US Airways specify a bin configuration unique to their aircraft?

  12. Jetcal1 June 28, 2010 at 3:17 pm #

    pax abuse?
    By? or of?
    Frankly, I think if the airlines designed for American pax or English Football fan pax, the cabin would end up very heavy.

  13. Mary Kirby June 29, 2010 at 7:26 pm #

    Here is an interesting piece of info. I just heard from US Airways and the carrier is saying the following:

    “Airbus is telling us just what we put in AboutUS [the employee newsletter] last week. Latches wear from opening and closing and not sure what connection there is between what you or Airbus is characterizing as overloading. The bins are a finite piece of space and all the latch does is keep the door shut. It doesn’t have anything to do with how full the bins are.”

  14. observer - airline operations June 30, 2010 at 4:20 am #

    From my point of view there are clear defined operating loads for each monument in the cabin from the OEM (Airbus).
    I personaly think the problem occurs because of the ultra light weight design of the bin (which was called the Enhanced Cabin – implemented from AIRBUS/FACC somewhere around 2006/2007) – this designs saves overall around 200kg against the old A320 Cabin; therefore as passenger you can deform the hatrack doors just with the finger or the wheels of the trolleys as a result.

    Also based on my in service experience the bin latch function is not always given because of the design of the hook system inside the latch during high loads in the bin.

    In my view there are 3 options:
    1) Redesign and repair or rplacement of the latches
    2) increasing the stiffness of the composite parts of the bin
    3) the airlines take more care about the allowed weight inside the bins

    regards
    Observer

  15. 7K7 June 30, 2010 at 7:34 am #

    I wonder, are the bin locks on the A330 different to those on the A320? USAirways operates both types but we haven’t heard about the same problem on their A330s.

    Also, following on Marys point about where the aircraft are deployed, don’t some of the types get deployed over the same routes (say 737, EMB 190 and A320)? Perhaps the lack of incidences on the A330 is that it mainly does longer legs so the bins are opened and closed less frequently?

  16. Jetcal1 June 30, 2010 at 8:55 am #

    Hello Mary and 7K7:
    Mary,
    I don’t buy into the statement, I’ve seen too many people crush the contents while pushing the doors closed. To my untrained eye, that would push the latch into a interference fit. I assume that there is now metal to metal contact with inflight vibration accelerating wear between the parts in contact.

    7K7,
    I would bet that other A330 operators don’t have the same policies forcing passengers to cram their baggage into an overhead bin.

    BTW,
    Why don’t people put their stuff under the seat anymore?

  17. Mary Kirby June 30, 2010 at 9:08 am #

    As you rightly point out, increasing the stiffness means adding weight. Adding weight means additional fuel burn cost to the carrier, and ultimately higher prices passed on to the customer. I’d be surprised if bin stiffening is even considered an option at this point. A combination of 1) and 3) seems to be the way forward – redesign the latch and put stronger protocol in place to ensure passengers stay within allowed weight/size. Here is US Airways’ carry-on baggage requirements: Up to 45 in/115 cm (14 x 9 x 22 in or 36 x 23 x 56 cm) Up to 40 lbs/18 kg. As a frequent flyer of US, I haven’t yet had to prove that my carry-on falls within these parameters.

  18. 7K7 June 30, 2010 at 1:15 pm #

    I think you meant A320 not A330, yes?

    I have yet to travel with a carrier that forces me to put everything in the overhead bins. I *have* travelled with one were we had to put everything under the seats though. But that is another story :-)

  19. Jetcal1 June 30, 2010 at 1:36 pm #

    7k7
    Change that to read:
    “I would bet that A330 operators don’t have….”

    I have noticed over the years that U.S. domestic pax now rarely put things under the seat. In their defense, seat pitch has become a bit of a commodity recently.

  20. 7K7 June 30, 2010 at 5:53 pm #

    Seat pitch. From my brief encounter with enforced under seat stowage (on an old Boeing 720), I think I can sympathise with those US domestic pax.

    The change still says A330 :-)

  21. Mary Kirby June 30, 2010 at 7:14 pm #

    Speaking of overhead bins…in what I can only assume is unrelated to latches, did you see this bit about maggots falling from a US Airways bin? http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/38027232/ns/travel-news/?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter

    There is a joke in there somewhere…

  22. 7K7 July 1, 2010 at 7:23 am #

    It’s just not US Airways’ day is it? :-)

  23. Jetcal1 July 1, 2010 at 8:50 am #

    “It’s just not US Airways’ day is it? :-)
    - Not when people start complaining about the in-flight catering.

    (first and last tasteless comment, I promise.)