Australian services provider says latest-generation aircraft pose additional risks in the event of airport accidents

Airservices Australia has developed procedures to deal with airport emergencies involving latest-generation airliners such as the Airbus A380 and Boeing 7E7 that use far more composite materials in their structures than existing aircraft.

The procedures address how to deal with the products of composite combustion and with impact-smashed composite materials, and their effects on both airport crash rescue teams and survivors.

The principal problem anticipated is that an impact can smash composites rather than bend and tear them as is the case with metal, and that when smashed, composites can release fibres that can pierce conventional protective clothing, or become airborne and damage the lungs, according to Dr Leith Higgins, director of the Perth Fire and Emergency Services Authority in Western Australia. But, he adds: "I am not convinced on the available research that composite particles will prove as lethal as asbestos, as some have claimed."

Air traffic and airport rescue services provider Airservices says it has been looking at the issue for several years and its new procedures for use at the Australian airports where the A380 and 7E7 will operate have been finalised and should receive approval from the authorities within the next few weeks. The airports involved at present are Sydney and Melbourne, where Qantas and Singapore Airlines have said their A380s will operate.

Under the new regulations, Airservices firefighting personnel will attend the scene of an accident, assess whether composites are involved and if so notify all emergency services and agencies. New requirements then come into play, including emergency personnel having to wear protective equipment and breathing apparatus.

Foam will be applied to reduce the hazard and airports will also have a waterwax solution available "to bury the accident site and prevent composite particles from becoming airborne". There will also be a decontamination process in place. Full-blown incidents involving composites will result in all emergency services being called in and full hazardous materials procedures implemented.

Airservices has worked with the Royal Australian Air Force which has experience of military aircraft with high composite levels.

Following the July 2001 Air France Concorde crash, the French accident investigation bureau BEA recommended that a commission be set up to identify and keep track of developments in the components of an aircraft that could become dangerous in the event of a crash.

This commission has now been created. But the French civil aviation authority (DGAC), noting that composite materials can be put together in an infinite number of ways using slightly different materials, says "a post-crash scenario is extremely difficult to set up".

Heathrow Airport, set to become the biggest A380 hub from 2006, says: "We are reviewing our current tactics and techniques in view of the [design] changes and new construction materials."



Source: Flight International