Evacuation: out of the A380 in 78 seconds – but so what?

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In April 2006 I took part in the successful trial evacuation of an Airbus A380 at Hamburg as part of the type's certification process, writes Kieran Daly.

Airbus showed that it could evacuate the full complement of 853 passengers plus crew in just 78s - 12s quicker than required.

In practice no airline customer for the A380 has plans to operate the aircraft at anything close to its maximum capacity, and there is little doubt that the more typical load of 450-550 passengers could easily be evacuated in 90s.

 

 
 © PA AP Photos 2008
Airbus A380 - All out in 78 seconds

The pool of more than 1,000 test volunteers was drawn equally from among Airbus staff and local Hamburg gym-members. The regulations required that 35% of the participants were aged over 50, a minimum 40% were female, and 15% were female and over 50. A small number of dolls were carried to represent babies.

All of us were required to undergo a minimal agility test that demonstrated little more than that we had sufficient mobility to participate safely.

Some aspects of the trial added to its realism: a regular Lufthansa cabin crew was in charge the passengers were adrenaline-charged a moderate amount of smoke and loose objects impeded our progress it was dark and, most importantly, half the exit doors were disabled.

On the other hand, we had plenty of time in advance to think through our personal exit plans we were largely co-operative with each other and we were of course not in fear of significant injury.

Things could have gone wrong. Passengers might have tripped in the aisle or panicked on the slides or some might, contrary to instructions, have used the A380's staircase between decks. It is easy to see how the 12s margin could have been used up.

In the event the evacuation went smoothly, but it is questionable what it proved. Had Airbus failed, the plan was to try again the following week. If it then succeeded it would appear that the aircraft would probably have been certificated on the basis of a 50% success rate - although, if they have concerns, the US and European authorities reserve the right to fail the design even if it hits the 90s target.

Equally, the successful outcome merely shows that once, on a given day, with a given group of participants, it so happens that the evacuation worked well and that therefore it is at least possible to evacuate the A380 in 90s.