Aircraft fires are extremely rare and usually occur in the event of a serious accident. However, airlines cannot neglect the likelihood of a fire, as it may entail large human victims and cause substantial material and environmental damage. In order to ensure the safety of people, preserve aircraft, and minimize possible damage, ensuring compliance with the fire safety requirements set out in the airline’s regulatory documents is necessary. However, the desire of the civil aviation industry to increase the comfort of passengers and satisfy their needs as much as possible often leads to dangerous situations. Therefore, there is a problem of defining the line between the requirements of the service market in the airline industry and the need to comply with fire safety regulations. In particular, airlines must clearly understand the limits of acceptable comfort in airplanes that would not contribute to the occurrence of a fire. In this regard, reassessment of fire safety requirements is a hot topic for the airline industry.
A fire in an airplane while it is in the air is one of the most dangerous situations with a high risk of lethal consequences for all its passengers. This danger is predetermined by the height, at which the air transport is located, its speed of movement, the closed space, and the lack of ways to leave a burning plane (Crick, 2017). Even although the number of tragic air accidents is extremely small, each of them usually leads to a large number of casualties. In particular, since the beginning of 2019, three aircraft crashes occurred, which led to the death of 201 people (International Civil Aviation Organization, 2019). On an airplane, fire spreads extremely quickly and can lead to an explosion or depressurization of the cabin, in addition to the standard consequences. In addition, a fire in the cargo hold of civil air transport poses an especial threat that is difficult to detect on time. For this reason, fire safety regulations imply the existence of strict instructions that can reduce the risk of fire and increase the survival rate of passengers if a fire does occur (Federal Aviation Administration, 2019). However, according to Spinardi, Bisby & Torero (2017), safety rules also imply the need to adhere to engineering requirements and the informational awareness and conscience of the main stakeholders, namely passengers, technologists, marketers, and airline managers. Nevertheless, the comfort of potential customers often comes out on top and becomes a priority in the airline industry.
Engineers and security managers in the airline industry often face challenges such as setting priorities and placing them right (Onyegiri & Oke, 2017). In particular, these issues relate to the use of materials for the internal design of aircraft, carry-on baggage, and cargo allowed for transportation (including cell phones and laptops), ventilation systems, and so on. Often, these aspects directly affect the safety, health, and life of passengers, and therefore, it is necessary to analyze them carefully.
One of the problems that the airline industry has encountered is the more frequent use of mobile technology on board an aircraft or the transportation of digital devices by passengers. Smartphones or laptops that are harmless at first glance can become the danger that can lead to a fire in air transport. For example, mobile phone batteries can become sources of ignition and contribute to a fire in an aircraft cabin (Ibrahim, 2017). Laptops, which can ignite spontaneously as well, represent a similar problem (Steinbuch, 2018). The situation is deteriorated by the fact that laptop computers are often stored in cargo compartments, where rapid fire detection is complicated. At the same time, the fire-resistant gas used in these premises is not always able to prevent ignition, especially if the presence of highly flammable materials in the compartment contributes to the spread of fire.
Materials contributing to increased passenger comfort also pose a serious danger (Dean, 2019). Recently, the aviation industry has given priority to composites and polymers that meet marketing requirements for convenience and comfort. However, the study of the characteristics of their flammability and fire resistance is not always carried out or is conducted in insufficiently realistic conditions. Polymer materials easily ignite, and the need to provide passengers with good ventilation contributes to the rapid spread of fire (Li, Yang, Yao, Tao & Liu, 2018). In particular, the constant flow of fresh air, which also provides increased comfort to consumers of airline services, is a risk factor in fire safety and, in particular, can lead to cabin depressurization. Therefore, engineers must adequately assess the likelihood of a fire and develop an effective system to protect aircraft from fire (Hopkin, Van Coile & Lange, 2017), although it is not always consistent with the client’s vision of comfort conditions.
In this regard, the fire safety regulations, which are necessary for the airline industry, face the comfort requirements that passengers impose. It is a difficult, controversial issue, the price of which may be human life. For this reason, an adequate assessment of aircraft fire protection systems and strategies that mitigate the risk of fire are necessary. In addition, an important role belongs to such areas as informing passengers and other stakeholders about the dangers of transportation of turned-on digital devices, and caution in engineering approaches to the design of the internal environment of aircraft.
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Dean, B. (2019). Importance of material fire testing for the aviation industry. Retrieved from https://ifpmag.mdmpublishing.com/importance-of-material-fire-testing-for-the-aviation-industry/
Federal Aviation Administration. (2019). About the Fire Safety Branch. Retrieved from https://www.fire.tc.faa.gov/About
Hopkin, D., Van Coile, R., & Lange, D. (2017). Certain Uncertainty – Demonstrating safety in fire engineering design and the need for safety targets. SFPE Europe, 7. Retrieved from https://biblio.ugent.be/publication/8536221/file/8536222
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International Civil Aviation Organization. (2019). Global Aviation Safety Snapshot. Retrieved from https://www.icao.int/Pages/default.aspx
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Steinbuch, Y. (2018). Laptop fire in cargo hold could bring down a plane: FAA study. Retrieved from https://nypost.com/2018/08/02/laptop-fire-in-cargo-hold-could-bring-down-a-plane-faa-study/