A passenger aircraft with 337 people on board was forced to divert in February after the pilot spilled coffee on the controls panel, UK investigators say.
The Airbus A330-243 from Frankfurt, Germany, to Cancun, Mexico, had to land in Shannon, Ireland, the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) reports.
The hot coffee damaged an audio control panel, which gave off an electrical burning smell and smoke, an accident report found. It created significant communication difficulty for the pilots flying the Airbus A330, the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) said.
The pilots had to use oxygen masks. There were no injuries.
The AAIB says the main pilot was monitoring the co-pilot over the Atlantic Ocean when coffee was served. The drinks were given in cups without lids, which the AAIB says was normal for the company operating the flight.
The main pilot put the coffee on his tray table – but the cup was later knocked over. Most of the liquid fell onto the commander’s lap and a small amount spilled on the main ACP1. The ACP1 and later the co-pilot’s ACP2 soon became hot enough to start melting one of its buttons.
This resulted in the control panels failing, and communication difficulties. The decision was taken to divert to Shannon, and the plane landed safely. The AAIB says that the operator has since changed their procedure to ensure that cup lids are provided for flights on all routes, and cabin crews are reminded of the requirements to use them.
Diversions typically cost airlines between £10,000 and £80,000, depending on the size of the aircraft and where it is diverted to, according to the Civil Aviation Authority.
The AAIB report found the 49-year-old captain had put his coffee cup on a tray table – where objects were “vulnerable to being knocked over” – despite Airbus recommending pilots use the cup holders provided.
The AAIB said the small size of cups used by Condor “generally discouraged” use of the holders. Condor has responded to the incident by ensuring cup lids are provided on all flights, reminding pilots to be careful with liquids and supplying cups that are an appropriate size for cup holders.
A spokeswoman for the airline, which is a subsidiary of Thomas Cook Group, said: “Flight DE2116 from Frankfurt to Cancún on 6 February 2019 diverted to Shannon airport as a precautionary measure due to a minor amount of smoke in the cockpit after a liquid spillage.
“After the aircraft was fully inspected and repaired by our team of engineers, the flight continued via Manchester due to the legal operating hours of the crew. We have comprehensively investigated this incident and reviewed the procedures of liquids in the cockpit.
“Our crews were reminded of [the need for] careful handling as well as to use appropriate containers for their water or coffee. We apologize for any inconvenience the diversion might have caused to our guests.”