I remember the last time I spilled coffee on myself. It wasn’t a huge deal-I ruined one of my white shirts, I got a little wet, but I didn’t end up having to divert an airliner to a nearby runway. That may sound like a scene out of Airplane, but it’s a real problem with the Airbus A350, according to World of Aviation.
Due to the design of the cockpit’s interior, pilots have been spilling coffee on the instrument cluster often enough-twice in the past eight months-for it to be a problem. It’s not a problem because of the mess, it’s a problem because the spills result in engine shutdowns. Only one engine per plane has been affected so far, but as the report shows, Airbus is already taking measures to mitigate this issue.
The first incident occurred on a flight likely operated by Asiana Airlines, and to be fair, it’s said that tea was spilled upon the instrument panel, not coffee. Nonetheless, one of the Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engines abruptly shut down soon after the spill. The plane was forced to land short of its destination at a different airport.
Another incident occurred on a Delta Airlines flight between Seoul, South Korea, and Detroit, Michigan in January of this year. Coffee was spilled onto the instrument cluster, and about 15 minutes later, one of the engines shut down. The plane diverted safely to Fairbanks, Alaska.
In response to this problem, Airbus has decided to make the center console of their aircraft more resistant to liquids. However, that’s apparently not the core issue. Pilots have allegedly reported the cupholders in the aircraft being too small, which forces them to use the instrument panel as a sort of makeshift table. The European Union Aviation Safety Agency has released an airworthiness directive banning liquids in the cockpit near the center console in response to these incidents.
In the meantime, Airbus has produced a cover for the instrument panel as a stop-gap solution until the controls can be properly sealed up. The French aerospace company has also introduced procedures to follow if a spill happens despite the cover.