Where there's smoke... there's caution
Increase in emergency landings indicates pilots wary in wake of Swissair crash
November 2, 1998
Web posted at: 1:09 p.m. EDT (1309 GMT)
(CNN) -- In the wake of the crash of Swissair Flight 111, it appears pilots aren't taking chances with smoke in the cockpit. There have been at least eight unscheduled landings due to smoke in the cockpit in the two months since the disaster. That's twice as many reports as the Federal Aviation Administration usually receives.
Aviation experts say that while the rules for landing a plane with smoke in the cockpit have not changed, pilots may be more conservative because of the Swissair crash.
All 230 people aboard were killed when the Swissair MD-11 plunged into the Atlantic Ocean off Nova Scotia September 2. The crash occurred shortly after the pilots reported smoke in the cockpit. Investigators have not yet determined the cause.
"When an accident happens, people become more sensitive to those kinds of incidents -- and smoke in the cockpit is one of the really, really scary things for a pilot," said John Wise, a professor at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University.
In the last two weeks of October, five commercial passenger planes made emergency landings -- three in Boston alone -- after pilots reported smoke or the smell of smoke in the cockpit. None of the incidents were linked to an actual fire on board.
Two of the emergency landings involved McDonnell Douglas MD-11s, the same kind of plane involved in the Swissair crash. On October 20, an American Airlines MD-11 flying from London to Chicago had to land in Boston after the pilot reported a smoky smell. And a Delta flight en route from Manchester, England, to Atlanta made a landing in Shannon, Ireland, on October 8 -- also due to an unusual smell in the cockpit.
"All the electronic connections come into the cockpit or a compartment underneath (the crew), so if there's an electrical short, you're going to get some kind of smell," said aviation consultant Jack Barker. "It may not start a fire, but you smell that acrid smell."
Smoke is considered one of the most dangerous situations aboard a plane because it may not only indicate a malfunction, but might also hamper the cockpit crew's ability to see and breathe. Airlines advise pilots to land as soon as possible if they detect smoke.