UPS has placed an order for 1,821 fire resistant shipping containers capable of containing a fire with temperatures as high as 1,200F for more than 4 hr. to use on its aircraft. Deliveries start in September and will be complete by early 2014, the airline says.
The unit load devices (ULDs) are built with MACROLite, a fiber-reinforced plastic composite similar to the material used in ballistic body armor, says UPS. The airline performed burn testing of the materials with the FAA and witnessed by the NTSB.
“That timeframe would give a flight crew ample time to land safely in the event of an in-flight fire,” the airline says.
The announcement comes as the United Arab Emirates’ air accident investigation department is set to publish a final report on July 24 into the Sept. 3, 2010 crash of UPS Flight 6, a Boeing 747-400 freighter that crashed after a cargo fire erupted 22 min. after departure from Dubai on a trip to Cologne.
Although the aircraft returned to Dubai, the pilots, with smoke in the cockpit and multiple failures including the captain’s oxygen system, were not able to land and both were killed. The aircraft crashed approximately 28 min. after the first fire bell warning went off in the cockpit.
The cargo suspected of causing an uncontained fire on the main cargo deck included “lithium and lithium derivative batteries,” according to an interim report. “The wider systemic risks associated with cargo fires and the carriage of hazardous air cargo will be addressed in the accident final report’s safety recommendations,” the report states.
The fire resistant ULDs are part of a broader safety overhaul of the cargo carrier’s fleet based on recommendations from the UPS Independent Pilots Association (IPA) safety task force, organized after the accident.
Other improvements include purchasing 575 fire-containment cargo pallet covers that can withstand 1,200F temperatures for 4 hr.; installing quick-donning, full-face oxygen masks across the entire fleet by the end of 2014, and completing the installation of emergency vision assurance systems (EVAS) in the 747-400 fleet. With EVAS, pilots press their oxygen masks into an inflatable pouch on the panel, allowing them to see the flight instruments and a portion of the forward windscreen despite having smoke in the cockpit.
According to Aviation Week’s Fleet database, UPS has a fleet of 235 aircraft, including leased-in aircraft, with 13 747-400s.