Will you be ready when hangar mayhem strikes?

I have to say my tolerance for today’s TV commercials is pretty short. Even with the millions the advertisers spend, most of them insult our/my intelligence.

But one current series for a major insurance provider has grabbed my attention. Well, for 30 seconds, anyway. Its message is centered around “mayhem” and the many ways it can wreak physical and financial havoc on the unsuspecting.

 I remember the company and message, so perhaps there is a method to their madness. Anyway, the various scenarios got me thinking about how, in today’s business aviation environment, we must stay one step ahead of all the ways mayhem can impact our operations.

 There’s a laundry list of things that can happen to your aircraft, and it seems to get longer all the time. Obviously, there are the givens: incidents and accidents, mechanical issues, foreign object damage, theft, vandalism, and cyber attacks – just to name a few.

We’ve collectively come to accept those as the “costs of doing business.” Following good practices, increased training, and improving digital and physical security can all be a big help in improving the safety of your aircraft and passengers.

Anyway, in most cases, we can relax when we know our airplane is safely tucked away in its hangar. Or can we? 

Where there’s smoke…

They’re so very rare today that we hardly even think they’re possible until one strikes. I’m, of course, talking about hangar fires. Short of a major accident, today’s all-metal structures are pretty safe. But fires do still happen.

The most recent instance happened just this past November at South Carolina’s Greenville Downtown Airport (KGMU) according to AIN’s report. The early morning fire destroyed the 10,000 sq. ft. structure along with several aircraft, including a Cessna Citation V Ultra, a Cirrus SR-22, and a couple of Diamond aircraft.

 Because that fire started in an unoccupied hangar, it was too late for the fire department to do much. But, according to experts, even hangar fires that start with people in the building – and are then quickly reported to first responders – are hard to control.

 Why? By their very design, hangars are three-sided boxes with one big door and very high ceilings. Even in the best situations, their design presents a unique and challenging environment to safely and effectively battle fires.

But that’s not all.  Along with the building’s challenges, you have the presence of aircraft that are loaded with Jet A and Avgas. Jet A has a particularly low flash point, so it burns fast and hot. And, of course, you have all of the other various chemicals and materials used to clean and maintain the aircraft. Plus, all the aircraft and ground support equipment scattered around the hangar floor creates a situation that’s like trying to drag a fire hose through a maze.

 That’s why, in many instances, the fire brigade is there to keep the flames from spreading to other structures. Airplanes are replaceable. People aren’t.

Bubble, bubble, toil, and trouble.

Ah, but you say, “Our hangar is equipped with a state-of-the-art automatic fire suppression system.” Well, that can be a good thing unless another form of mayhem comes calling.

According to a story by Curt Castanga in the November/December issue of Aviation Maintenance Technology, aviation insurance industry data shows it is more likely to have an inadvertent discharge of fire suppressant foam than it is to have a hangar fire.

Don’t think it can happen to you? Well, it’s a good guess that was the mindset of the owners whose aircraft were housed in a hangar at McKinney National Airport just outside Dallas. 

According to reports, last October 28th, the hangar’s automatic fire suppression system was inadvertently activated, foam soaking several aircraft, including a Bombardier Challenger 300, Cessna Citation X, IAI Westwind 2, and other smaller aircraft with foam.

While these instances are thankfully rare, they’re really not as rare as you might think. According to the National Air Transportation Association (NATA), over the past 20 years, there have been upwards of 150 “accidental” hangar foam suppression system discharges.

That 150-ish number is rather vague for a reason. These kinds of incidents are hard to nail down because hangar operators are rather tight-lipped about their occurrences unless the story makes its way into the media. So, it’s a good guess that there have been situations that have been swept under the proverbial carpet. 

Okay, so you’re thinking, it’s foam; for goodness sake, how bad can the damage be? The average overall cost to clean up and aircraft damage from these events falls between $64 million and $235 million, according to NATA. (And that’s in 2020 dollars.)

Yes, I know it’s kind of hard to wrap your mind around the fact that a high-tech version of “Mr. Bubble” could cause that much damage to parked aircraft. But it does. So let’s look at just exactly what kind of mayhem it can bring:

  • Damage to aircraft: While foam is very good at keeping the aircraft safe from fire, by its design, its rapid expansion will force the chemicals into every exposed nook and cranny on the aircraft. And that includes the aircraft’s cockpit and cabin if the door or cockpit windows are left open – not an uncommon practice in many private hangars.

Once inside the engines, airframe, cabin, and other orifices, the chemicals can damage or ruin anything they come in contact with. In most cases, the affected components have to be totally rebuilt or replaced. Warning: Calculating the cost will keep you up at night.

  • Damage to other equipment: Like the aircraft, the foam’s impact can be devastating to any other equipment in the hangar. And from electronics to tools to ground support equipment to anything else, like we all know, nothing in aviation is cheap to replace.
  • Loss of business income: Once your aircraft is doused with foam, it will take a long time to get it cleaned up and flying again. That leaves you with the complex and expensive task of finding replacement lift for the duration of your aircraft’s downtime.

If you’re a Part 135 operation, you’re dealing with the double blow of having to try to find an aircraft to resume operations – often with the added costs of doing an FAA Part-135 conformity on said aircraft – and the loss of income while you’re trying to put it all together.

Dealing with Waterlogged logbooks…

One of the least thought of but most expensive items to replace in your flight department are your aircraft’s operational and maintenance logbooks. If, along with the aircraft, they’re lost in a catastrophic hangar fire, it won’t matter to anyone. Que Sera Sera…

But, if the logs are damaged or destroyed by a flood of foam (or any other level of mayhem, for that matter), well, that’s a whole different problem you’ll have to solve.

And, like repairing or replacing everything else that’s damaged, it’s a long road back. Your aircraft’s airworthiness and market value are directly tied to the information in those logbooks.

Replacement or refurbishment requires that each entry be checked and confirmed back to the aircraft’s entry into service. The time and cost to do it all is considerable.

The truly unfortunate part of it all is logbook damaging mayhem can be avoided. It can’t touch your logbooks if they’ve been digitized and safely stored on Bluetail’s secure cloud-based network. Once they’re there, nothing short of a revisit by the Chicxulub impactor (Google it) will bring any harm to your aircraft’s back-to-birth records.

If you want to learn more about how Bluetail’s digital records platform can help keep your valuable logbooks safe from mayhem, visit www.bluetail.aero.

JSSI Traxxall now integrates with Bluetail