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Home > Air Safety > How are modern aircraft equipped to handle in-flight smoke or fire?
How are modern aircraft equipped to handle in-flight smoke or fire?
Aviation - Air Safety
Thursday, 18 December 2008 03:48

Dear Captain Lim,

In June 1983, an Air Canada DC-9 traveling to Toronto from Dallas quickly turned into an all-out emergency when passengers noticed smoke coming out from the rear washroom.

As the smoke grew thicker, the crew had no choice but attempted to land the plane. For fifteen hellish minutes, the passengers and crew struggled to deal with the thick toxic smoke.

When the plane finally hit the runway in Cincinnati, all on board struggled to exit the burning plane as quickly as they could.

Ninety seconds after touching the ground, the plane was engulfed in a ball of fire. Twenty-three of the forty-six passengers perished.

Could the oxygen mask be deployed when such in-flight smoke arose so that the passengers could breathe good air and remain conscious for at least for a few minutes until it landed as it happened on the Air Canada flight?

I feel that the 23 passenger who couldn’t make it out of the aircraft when it landed were unconscious due to inhalation of the thick toxic smoke; some where even strapped on to their seats.

How are modern aircraft equipped to handle such a situation?

Thanking you in advance.

Wishing you good health and safe flights



Fire On Board – Air Canada Flight 797

Hi Sebastian,


It was because of this accident that the airline industry has improved the procedures to tackle all in-flight smokes or fires.


Amongst others, the investigation board of this accident came out with these recommendations:-

1. Smoke detectors to be installed in all lavatories
2. Automatic fire extinguishers to be installed adjacent to and in lavatory waste receptacles
3. To review fire training procedures and amend those that did not take aggressive actions to determine the source and severity of suspected cabin fires
4. Crew should begin an emergency descent for landing or ditching if the source and severity of the fire are not positively and quickly determined.

Today, most of the materials in the modern aircraft cabin are fire resistant.


In addition, the toilets, for example, on the Boeing 777 have fire detection as well as extinguishing systems. Yes, more so in the lavatory waste containers where cigarette butts are likely to be disposed off by compulsive smokers!


Anyway, any smokers who attempt to secretly smoke in the toilets would trigger an alarm. An aural alert sounds inside and in the cabin. The captain and the flight attendants would all be notified.


There are also 10 smoke masks or PBE (personal breathing equipment) and 10 fire extinguishers (BCF) to be used by the crew to fight fire on board the cabin. All the crews are trained to fight in-flight cabin fire and they are tested every year.


Could the oxygen masks be deployed in such an in-flight smoke situation?


No. The deployment of the oxygen masks was meant for emergency depressurization in flight above 10,000 feet only. You know that oxygen would only aggravate the fire.


You can see the full video reconstruction of the Air Canada smoke/fire incident here.



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