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Report: Smoke in cabin of Boeing 737 at Kerry, Ireland caused by runway de-icer
29 February 2012

File photo of a Ryanair Boeing 737-8AS (photo: ASN)

The Air Accident Investigation Unit Ireland (AAIU) released their investigation report regarding the December 2010 incident involving a Boeing 737-800 at Kerry Airport, Ireland. Runway de-icer was blamed for smoke inside the cabin and cockpit of the plane.

Ryanair flight FR701 departed from Stansted Airport (EGSS) in the U.K. and flew directly to Kerry Airport (EIKY), Ireland.  There were 170 passengers and seven crew members on board. The cockpit crew consisted of a Commander, who was an instructor pilot, a newly qualified First Officer, who was making his first landing with passengers on board and a Safety Pilot  occupying the jump seat. The First Officer was the Pilot Flying and the Commander was the Pilot Non-Flying.
The weather conditions were good for the approach and the runway surface was reported dry. The descent, approach and landing were reported normal. After landing reverse thrust was selected. As the aircraft decelerated the Safety Pilot reported smoke on the right hand side of the cockpit. The aircraft was turned off the runway and brought to a halt on the taxiway adjacent to the ramp.
Shortly afterwards the Cabin Services Supervisor  also reported smoke in the cabin. The engines were shut down and an evacuation was immediately commenced following which the passengers walked to the airport terminal building, a short distance away.

At the time of the incident the weather in Ireland had been unseasonably cold for the previous month. Because of this, the supplies of runway de-icing fluid had been exhausted at Kerry Airport and, if airport operations were to continue, granular urea was one of the few alternatives available. This was spread on the runway as an anti-icing measure in order to allow continued safe operation of flights from the runway. In this case, although some snow had been expected, none had fallen and consequently the urea had not dissolved and significant amounts remained in granular form on the centre of the runway, which was bare and clear of snow.

After landing, the engines spooled up due to reverse thrust being selected, as per normal procedures. It is probable that the urea on the runway was then ingested into the engines and rapidly heated to a high temperature by engine compression before being dispensed by the air conditioning system throughout the flight deck and cabin. This would have resulted in the acrid smoke observed in both the cockpit and cabin.

The study also revealed that a significant number of the passengers carried hand baggage as they evacuated the airplane.

The AAIU issued three safety recommendations:

  1. The Irish Aviation Authority should require airport operators to advise pilots, via NOTAM, ATIS or VHF transmission, when urea is being used as an anti-icing agent on runways or taxiways.
  2. European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) should introduce a requirement that the CVR should continue to record in the event of power failure.
  3. The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) should examine the issue of passengers taking off carry-on baggage during an emergency evacuation and provide guidance for cabin crew in such situations.


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