March 23, 2006

Simple Math

Airbus is running a tightly scripted demo:

Airbus plans a major certification test on Sunday for its A380, evacuating hundreds of people from the world's biggest passenger jet in just 90 seconds.

The drill will be carried out in darkness in a hangar at the Airbus plant in the north German city of Hamburg, using employees and volunteers selected from 11,000 applicants.

The test is standard procedure in airline production and is vital for the A380 to be certified to carry passengers.

The plane is designed to carry a maximum of 850 passengers and 20 crew, but the largest number of seats planned for initial delivery of the aircraft is 650.

Airbus intends to use the maximum number in Sunday's exercise during which the volunteers will have to escape through half of the plane's 16 doors and slide down emergency chutes to the ground eight metres below.

'We have been preparing for this test with a team of 12 since December 2004 and are confident that everything will go according to plan,' says Hans-Georg Schrader, the man in charge of the operation.

Each volunteer will get a free meal and 60 euros (72 dollars) for the test, which will be recorded on video from nearly 40 different camera angles and overseen by officials of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Ok, let's do the simple math. To achieve its certification, 870 people are going to exit this aircraft from only 8 exits in 90 seconds -- in darkness. So, completely disregarding the difficulties associated with a real disaster that might require abandoning an aircraft -- the injured, the screaming, the panic, etc. -- we will posit ideal conditions and assume that one trained, motivated, and well fed exiter is going to successfully exit the aircraft from each available exit every 0.82758 seconds for 90 seconds.

Good luck.

For cabin attendants overseeing a real-life evacuation it is important to remain calm while getting passengers out of the aircraft as quickly as possible.

If, for example, one of the wings is on fire the doors have to remain sealed on that side of the aircraft and the passengers directed to other exits.

They make it all sound so easy. But who really thinks the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) aren't going to certify this aircraft to fly passengers even if they cannot accomplish the impossible? After all:

Singapore Airlines is expected to take delivery of the first two aircraft at the end of this year.

Odds are they didn't buy them to taxi passengers from one terminal to another, even if they are more efficient than the people movers at Dulles.

Posted by Charles Austin at March 23, 2006 05:43 PM