back to article EU orders Airbus A350 operators to install anti-coffee spillage covers in airliner cockpits

Airbus has solved the ongoing problem of cack-handed airline pilots spilling coffee over vital cockpit electronics – with a plastic cover. Following “inadvertent liquid spillage” on engine control panels in the flight decks of Airbus A350 airliners, the Franco-German-Spanish multinational company has also waterproofed engine …

  1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    Boeing

    Presumably follow the American car model and have several 64oz drink holders per pilot.

    Although spilling a McSlurpy on Boeing's electronics probably improves airworthiness

  2. Arthur the cat Silver badge

    Just how hot can coffee get?

    a clumsy captain spilled his coffee into the aircraft’s radios, melting two of them. [My emphasis.]

    Did someone mix up the coffee and the napalm?

    1. IGotOut Silver badge

      Re: Just how hot can coffee get?

      They probally downplayed the huge fireball that occured following the shorting.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
        Flame

        Re: Just how hot can coffee get?

        Everyone knows that when things go wrong, sparks and flames appear all over the damn place, even in unrelated systems. It just depends on how much cash is in the SFX budget for pyros and squibs.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Just how hot can coffee get?

      McDonald's coffee and apple pie... 2 of the hottest things on the planet

  3. ST Silver badge
    Devil

    Wouldn't a child's sippy cup be cheaper?

    It totally ruins the flavor. How can you tell the difference between Sumatra medium dark roast and Kenya french roast?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Wouldn't a child's sippy cup be cheaper?

      Have you ever drunk in flight coffee?

      1. Graham Dawson Silver badge
        Pint

        Re: Wouldn't a child's sippy cup be cheaper?

        I'd need to be drunk to consume that stuff.

  4. whoseyourdaddy

    Weird. American air carriers have required liquid-resistant designs

    to "pass through" liquids to the floor through drain holes in the metal boxes for decades.. At least for the intercom panels that I worked on.

    One US airline went through a "waterproofing" retrofit company-wide more than a decade ago. gaskets around the knobs. Plus, aircraft circuit boards are required to be "conformal coated" to also mitigate humidity and corrosion. Do a repair? Put more coating back on.

    Audio control/intercom systems on single-aisle aircraft are sourced/customized by the airlines and installed by Boeing and others, like Bombardier. It's a lucrative racket if you can meet the documentation and testing requirements without losing your mind.

    1. IGotOut Silver badge

      Re: Weird. American air carriers have required liquid-resistant designs

      "It's a lucrative racket if you can meet the documentation and testing requirements"

      Tick.

      That's Boeings testing procedure done.

    2. Gotno iShit Wantno iShit

      Re: Weird. American air carriers have required liquid-resistant designs

      FAA: Please spell 'tested'

      Boeing: t e s t e d

      FAA: Excellent, here's an air worthiness certificate.

      1. ChrisC

        Re: Weird. American air carriers have required liquid-resistant designs

        Or even...

        FAA: Please spell "tested"

        Boeing: t e s s - t e d

        FAA: ???

        Boeing: Oh, that's how we used to spell it 30 years ago when you first asked us

        FAA: Ah, righto, in that case just keep using the certification from back then, no need to issue you anything new

    3. Martin an gof Silver badge

      Re: Weird. American air carriers have required liquid-resistant designs

      "pass through" liquids to the floor through drain holes

      Despite "no food / no drink" policies, one mid-evening jock on a radio station I worked at managed to spill half a bottle of cider on the controls*. He did the rest of the show with wet trousers as the drain holes were right above his legs. It did put half the desk out of action, but only because sticky cider doesn't really do much good to faders. The actual "electronics" were in a rack-mounted pod safely out of the way.

      The switches and pots were sealed, so no problem there and the Penny & Giles conductive plastic faders were easily fixed by dismantling and cleaning with water. IIRC I only had to replace one or two of the wipers, which were probably nearing replacement through normal wear-and-tear anyway.

      The biggest problem was that said jock didn't report it at (say) 8pm when it happened, instead he soldiered on with the main mic, two CD players and a couple of other things unusable, leaving it to the next guy to page me in at 10pm.

      And the next guy really didn't want to use the "spare" studio - so rather than moving into a non-smelly, fully-working studio the other side of the news booth, he also soldiered on while I dismantled and reassembled one half of the control surface.

      Grrr...

      Swapping studios was a problem for jocks, for some reason. Yes there was a slightly complicated "offer, accept" set of buttons to push, but the main problem was timing - if there wasn't a second person to press "accept" within the 30 seconds or so after "offer", you had to run between studios to do it yourself. That the studios were quite literally next door to each other didn't make any difference, and I often found myself an unintended part of someone's programme while I dismantled the studio around them. Chris Needs used to do it deliberately, I think, as it gave him plenty of opportunity for innuendo at my expense...

      M.

      *it was his last live show (he had one more turn on-air, but had already recorded that to tape) so I suppose he thought the rules wouldn't affect him...

  5. steamnut

    Amateur design and construction.

    Surely, everyone who designs cockpit instrumentation has seen the film "Fate Is the Hunter"? A plane crash is caused by a coffee cup being tipped over the centre console? The spill produced an instrument error that resulted in the pilot making a fatal mistake.

    Anyone involved in electronics must consider the operating environment. At the very least the PCB's would be coated in a conformal coating which ought to render them short circuit proof against liquids. And, I would have thought the control switches would be waterproof. Any other gaps in the panel for slider type controls would have brush seals too.

    All in all an amazing "fix" to be applying after all these years.

    1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Amateur design and construction.

      And all those years terrorists who wanted to down an airliner had to find ways to smuggle nefarious devices onboard an aircraft, when all they needed to do was once airborne, ask for a coffee and go and pour it over the cockpit instruments. I do of course mean pre 9/11

      1. andy gibson

        Re: Amateur design and construction.

        1996:

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4wWkyZPKE64

    2. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Amateur design and construction.

      While you're being logical, change your thinking to that of a bean counter. Conformal coating costs money...i.e.: profit. Conformal coating, etc. has been pretty much standard for military gear for decades.

      As for the sippy cups, they work. I use one in my car. Solid plastic, have open the drinking hole to drink and then close and replace cup in cup holder. That would seem to be a good solution but then again, humans tend to bypass things when it's "inconvenient.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Amateur design and construction.

        "As for the sippy cups, they work. I use one in my car. Solid plastic, have open the drinking hole to drink and then close and replace cup in cup holder. That would seem to be a good solution but then again, humans tend to bypass things when it's "inconvenient."

        Yeah, but you really don't need to take those precautions when drinking a coffee or other beverage in the drivers seat because you're not actually driving at that point. Your're not actually drinking while driving, aren't you?

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Amateur design and construction.

          Interesting voting pattern on my comment. So, where is it legal?

          1. Malcolm Weir Silver badge

            Re: Amateur design and construction.

            My understanding is that it's presumptively legal throughout the USA and Canada (at least), but subject to a "distracted driver" caveat. So if you're stopped at a red light, that's very unlikely to be a problem. If you're changing lanes at speed in fog, that might be a different story! (There's also the reality that most north American cops will have been sipping coffee at some point themselves, so even if they could write a ticket, they're unlikely to as a primary cause!)

    3. Ian Paul 1

      Re: Amateur design and construction

      - all foreseen in the film -

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fate_Is_the_Hunter_(film)

  6. Danny 2 Silver badge

    Wouldn't a child's sippy cup be cheaper?

    Hey! That's demeaning of a wonderful technology suitable for people of all ages, not just children.

    I regularly used to spill a quarter bottle of malt on my carpet before I bought an adult sippy glass. Paid for itself in a week, plus you can use it with a facemask on.

    I've not went for adult diapers/nappies yet but I am wondering how much time I could save on nights out trailing to the toilet. Astronauts use them so they are literally space age tech.

    1. Steve K Silver badge

      Re: Wouldn't a child's sippy cup be cheaper?

      Or a drysuit?

      It would keep your feet warm too for ages

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How long before...

    ...one of the waterproof covers gets stuck??

    1. Nunyabiznes Silver badge

      Re: How long before...

      Presumably the cover is hinged so they can get to the controls - therefore their syrupy coffee concoction will undoubtedly gummy up the hinge and lead to an Unintended Consequence.

  8. Steve K Silver badge

    SImpler solution?

    I can't help but think that there has to be a simpler solution.

    With other expensive pieces of machinery, there are usually big signs warning against eating/drinking in areas where spillage would be inadvisable.

    Yet here you have a $100m+ piece of equipment (potentially with hundreds of passengers also on board) that they accept that the 2 key personnel could well slosh liquid all over the critical electrical controls....

    I know that pilots have to eat/drink, but they also (generally) have to leave their seat to visit the toilet, leaving one pilot flying (and presumably during a quiet part of the flight).

    From a flight operational perspective, what would be the downside of banning pilots from eating/drinking while seated at the controls?

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: SImpler solution?

      The down side? A sleepy pilot.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: SImpler solution?

        Fly upside down

      2. Danny 2 Silver badge

        Re: SImpler solution?

        Long time ago but my sister was a British Caledonian stewardess. She said on transatlantic flights she often went in to the cockpit with coffee and found both pilots asleep. Autopilot. Plus the coffee wasn't to wake them up, it was to sober them up.

        Still happens.

      3. This post has been deleted by its author

      4. I am the liquor

        Re: SImpler solution?

        Looks like they picked the wrong week to quit amphetamines.

        1. J. Cook Silver badge

          Re: SImpler solution?

          That movie is _so_ awesome. they crammed in so many visual gags, puns, and innuendo it pretty much requires multiple viewings to find them all.

    2. Nunyabiznes Silver badge

      Re: SImpler solution?

      I used to work in a factory where having a drink on your worktable was a fire-able offense. And that was just to protect some handwritten production notes.

      Firing squad would have been instituted if there had been a chance of human harm.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: SImpler solution?

      Regularly entering and exiting the flight deck is a no-no on hijacking grounds.

      1. Solviva

        Re: SImpler solution?

        On Air France they make sue to close the forward galley curtain whilst the FAs go off and party in the cockpit with the door wide open. That cloth has been proven to keep everybody safe, since when was an AF flight last hijacked?

        1. Malcolm Weir Silver badge

          Re: SImpler solution?

          When? December 1994: AF8969, F-GBEC.

          1. Solviva

            Re: SImpler solution?

            All the time, I suspect in the case you're referring to they didn't close the forward curtain.

            Also only well-intentioned pax are allowed to use the loo by going beyond said curtain. Not sure what magic filter is contained within said curtain but it's been keeping pax safe since 1994!

    4. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: SImpler solution?

      Steve K,

      Eating shouldn't be a problem. You can do that quickly, and in one go, while having a bit of time away from the controls. But coffee and tea are hot, in my experience of flying, coffee is normally served at about 500°C. Though hopefully the pilots are getting the actually drinkable stuff from first class - I only dared the coffee on 6am flights, when the horror of the impending meetings, made death by airline coffee seem the preferable alternative.

      But levity aside, the pilots are working in a very dry environment - often for long periods. So while you could easily ban drinking at the controls on short hops - it's not really reasonable to do so on long flights. And it then becomes an interesting problem in safety decision making. You don't want tired pilots, or even thirsty ones. I think it's been pretty well shown that well-hydrated people show better judgement and problem solving. Surely a good thing for pilots. You also don't want shorted controls. But finally you also want both your pilots to be near the controls, in case of emergency. There's often quite a lot to do, and so having 2 people responding in a time critical situation is also important.

      1. J. Cook Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: SImpler solution?

        But coffee and tea are hot, in my experience of flying, coffee is normally served at about 500°C

        Sure about that? I'd think it'd melt most plastics at that temperature... :)

      2. Steve K Silver badge

        Re: SImpler solution?

        Fair point on hydration, definitely but coffee is not necessarily the right choice there (awaiting a study on the comparative electrical damage characteristics of tap water vs. Mineral water vs. Coffee - with/without sugar!).

        However, given the degree of risk analysis and mitigation in civil aviation, (e.g. crews timing out due to flying duty hours restrictions, systems redundancy, pilots sober) i am surprised that a more robust solution has not been attempted, as it’s a fairly easy one to mitigate (although maybe introducing the hydration risk you mention).

        Pilots will of course never do this on purpose, as I imagine even an incident that does not zap the controls will (ironically) lead to a meeting with the Chief Pilot with neither tea/coffee nor biccies.

        1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

          Re: SImpler solution?

          Perhaps a mask, with a straw, that drops from the ceiling in an emergency? Such as an under-hydrated or under-caffeinated pilot. I guess it could even dispense vodka, in case the pilot is too awake.

          1. Steve K Silver badge

            Re: SImpler solution?

            I like that idea!

            You could call it "More Coffee And Sugar" or MCAS for short. You could have it switch sides on every flight so that the right and left seats get the drinks feed so that one is always hydrated!

            If the pilots disagree on this then it empties the drink on the console anyway.

            1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
              Thumb Up

              Re: SImpler solution?

              Steve K,

              Tee hee!

              Let me guess - have you recently retired from an engineering management role at Boeing?

              Out of interest, when do you start your new job at the FAA? It's nice to see an enlightened, "can-do" atttitude amongst our regulatory overlords.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Great expense?

    Sounds like using a hammer to crack a nut. Shirley there has to a simple, cheap way of stopping drinkies spillages into the flishy-flashy electronic gubbins?

  10. Marketing Hack Silver badge
    Happy

    Might I suggest the following solution?

    https://www.menkind.co.uk/drinks-helmet

    Just make sure you take it off before you step back into the cabin to give the passengers a feel-good that adults are running the show in the cockpit.

  11. Imhotep

    Remediation Experts

    So pilots are expected to place and remove these covers at different phases of the flight, and these odd bits of plastic are't expected to just walk off?

    Have some Boeing engineers recently found new employment?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Remediation Experts

      This sounds more to me like an inconvinient temporary fix which allows airlines to continue operating the aircraft, leaving time for liquid-proof panels to be designed, certified, produced and then finally installed as a part of regular scheduled maintenance, rather than as a rushed job with a grounded fleet.

      Once these panels are in place, the covers can be removed.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Remediation Experts

      Lets not forget the man involved in the infamous 'Mr Hands' incident was a Boeing engineer, and failed to detect that what he was about to do might have unforeseen consequences.

  12. Fursty Ferret

    I also find it astonishing that sealed cups aren't mandated on all flight decks. Quite apart from spilling your drink over the avionics there's nothing quite as irritating as finding the cup holder sloshing with an inch of someone else's cold coffee following a turbulence encounter.

    I bought my own pretentious reusable cup with a lid and Pret label. Interestingly my previous and suspiciously orange employer simply provided lids for the disposable cups.

  13. rcxb Silver badge

    Other liquids

    Everyone's having a laugh about the drink spills, but cockpit equipment SHOULD be water-resistant. It's life-or-death equipment and a pilot's drink isn't the only possible source of intrusion. There have been a few passenger jets that had their windscreens destroyed/removed in flight for various reason. If it happened to be raining at the time, you'd have quite a bit more than a coffee-cup worth coming in. The cost of improvements is much less than the cost of one accident.

    1. DS999

      Re: Other liquids

      Also things like a stray sneeze, pilots may have a cut on their hand that comes open and bleeds into the controls they touch, perhaps vomit if they are dumb enough to eat the airplane food.

      1. Mog_X

        Re: Other liquids

        Rumack:

        What was it we had for dinner tonight?

        Elaine Dickinson:

        Well, we had a choice of steak or fish.

        Rumack:

        Yes, yes, I remember, I had lasagna.

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Other liquids

      "The cost of improvements is much less than the cost of one accident."

      I believe Boeing have demonstrated that it takes at least two accidents before the costs start to mount up.

  14. Malcolm Weir Silver badge

    Design error

    The specific issue here is that the A350 (and the A330, A380, etc) have pull-out keyboards with convenient wrist rests, which unfortunately are great places to put your coffee, which will promptly fall into the central console, which is where the engine controls are. The location Boeing picked for the cupholders on the 777/787 is on the outside (away from the center console) so coffee spills are more likely to wet shoes than mess up the systems, but Airbus can't do that because they keep the primary flying control (the joystick/side-stick controller) in that spot, and dropping coffee in that is probably just as bad (well, nearly, because there's a spare on the other side for the other pilot, which is not true for the center engine controls).

    (The Airbus cupholder is more like the pop-out loops than the inverted cylinder, so is more likely to less useful)!

    1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Design error

      Hmm can't have cup holders left or right of each pilot... so put them in the middle, directly over each pilots' groin. There's nothing like hot liquid over delicate personal 'equipment' as an incentive to focus the mind and reduce spillages.

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