Monday, March 27, 2006

Slip, Sliding Away …

Over the last weekend, the Airbus A380 was put through it’s paces in it's first and certifying emergency drill. The drill is a key milestone on the road to issuing licences permitting the plane entry into the public domain - licences which Airbus hopes to obtain by the end of 2006.

Officials from the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) were present at Sunday's drill, which took place in one of the biggest hangars in Europe - at the Airbus Finkenwerder production facility next to the River Elbe.

To gain another step to airworthiness, the aircraft had to pass the following test;

A minimum of 650 passengers to take part.
All lights (except emergency) had to be switched off in the cabin.
Half of the 16 exits had to be closed.
The Drill must comprise of 40% women and 35% of people had to be over 50 years of age.

In reality, 1000 volunteers showed up and were given a quick agility test followed by a free lunch on Airbus. 853 people then boarded the plane and were given 90 seconds to get out of their seats and to exit the aircraft by one of the eight exits available. Although the A380 has 16 exits, half of these were intentionally closed off. As the drill got underway, the 'passengers' had to contend with assorted luggage, blankets, pillows and other debris strewn across the aisles.

All went well except for a broken leg and 32 minor injuries. Despite the eventualities, Gustav Humbert, Airbus' managing director, said "That was a very great success".

Naturally, the press had a field day. Injuries? "Yes please!" shouted the news editors.

Typical. Negative tossers.

Imagine if the evacuation had been for real - people trying to escape from a burning, mangled metal fuselage - don’t you think there would have been far more injuries? Getting 800+ people down inflatable plastic slides, 3-story's high and in 80 seconds, was pretty good going. So please, a broken leg and 32 minor injuries during a practice is little more than small change and shouldn’t be seen as shocking … the Nazi 'human experimentation' project … now that was shocking.

Sunday’s exercise was very necessary and I doubt that Airbus left the injured parties to rot in some form of aviation prison camp …

Kerian Daly, of Flight International, was the only member of the media who took part in the exercise.

For anyone who fancies a free meal and an emergency evacuation, stay tuned. Airbus may be doing it all over again next month …



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