FedEx Express Advances In-Flight Safety with Automatic Fire Suppression System
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Oct. 6, 2009 — FedEx Express, a subsidiary of FedEx Corp. (NYSE:FDX), has unveiled the industry’s first onboard automatic fire-suppression system (FSS), elevating the level of safety during international, over-water flights. The comprehensive fire-safety system is the result of seven years of design and development efforts at FedEx Express, and expands upon the company’s existing commitment to advancing aviation safety.
“The in-flight safety of crew and cargo is a top priority at FedEx Express, leading to our development of this enhanced fire-safety technology,” said Joel Murdock, managing director, Strategic Projects, FedEx Express. “After seven years of design and development, we’re proud to see this proprietary technology take flight on a variety of aircraft in the FedEx fleet, representing another strong step forward in our air-safety initiatives.”
In April 2009, FedEx Express began installation of the FSS technology on MD-11 freighters —the workhorse of the FedEx international aircraft fleet. Each installation requires approximately 700 man hours and will be completed on the company’s 59 MD-11 aircraft in early 2011. FedEx also plans to install the FSS technology on new Boeing 777 Freighters, which begin international service in the company’s fleet in early 2010. In all, 74 FedEx wide-body planes used for international, over-water flights will be upgraded with the technology.
How the FedEx FSS Works
The FSS features a network of infrared thermal sensors, foaming-agent generators and an overhead cargo-container injector. If heat is detected by the sensors, the fire suppression technology located above each cargo container is activated, simultaneously alerting crew members. The metal container is pierced by an injector apparatus and filled with an argon-based biodegradable and non-corrosive fire-suppression foam that controls and extinguishes the fire in minutes. Cargo in other containers is unaffected by the system’s activation, and the foam has only minimal impact on packages housed within the container. For palletized freight, a special fire-retardant blanket is used to cover the cargo; it restricts the level of oxygen around freight, effectively serving as a fire suppression tool.
In extensive testing, including the certification process, the FedEx FSS proved quick and effective on classes of fires, demonstrating its capability of protecting aircraft, crew and customer shipments from fires started by:
· Ordinary materials such as paper or lumber (Class A)
· Flammable or combustible liquids such as gasoline or kerosene (Class B)
· Combustible metals such as lithium, magnesium titanium, potassium and sodium which burn at extremely high temperatures (Class D).
No other aircraft fire-safety system in use today is effective against Class D fires. Shipments that are subject to what would be considered Class C fires, electrical equipment, for example, will continue to be carried separately in the aircraft’s lower belly compartment, and are safeguarded with the industry-standard halon bottle system.
How FedEx FSS Enhances Air Safety
A majority of fire-safety systems in use onboard cargo aircraft require manual activation by a crew member. In addition, many systems only address fires that could potentially occur in containers holding cargo that must be declared and labeled by shippers as being Dangerous Goods. Yet most cargo fires originate from undeclared Dangerous Goods, posing additional challenges to existing fire-suppression systems. Because of its unique over-head design and automatic activation, the FedEx FSS technology overcomes this challenge by suppressing fires contained within any cargo container or pallet on the main flight deck.
In addition, current FAA regulations require that aircraft depressurize, divert to the closest airport and land immediately after any in-flight fire situation. This means that the flight crew has about 30 minutes to safely land the aircraft. With the new FedEx safety system, aircraft on lengthy international flights, which can be up to three hours from land, are able to safely divert and land.
“Our new in-flight system has pushed the industry safety standard to a new level,” Murdock said. “With the FedEx technology our pilots have more time to review and assess an in-air situation, further ensuring their safety, and the safety of their plane and cargo.”
A History of Aviation Safety Advancements
The introduction of the FedEx FSS into the company’s fleet is just the latest upgrade in a series of pilot and aircraft advancements that underpin the FedEx Express commitment to safety. In 2008 FedEx Express certified a unique Head-Up Display/Enhanced Flight Vision System (HUD/EFVS) on MD-10 and MD-11 aircraft. The technology – pioneered in conjunction with Honeywell and Elbit Systems – improves situational awareness for flight crews in reduced visibility conditions. Installation of the HUD/EFVS began in January 2009 on the MD-11 and will be followed by the MD-10.
On-the-ground safety was also addressed with the recent installation of the Runway Awareness and Advisory System (RAAS). This upgrade improves the existing Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System standard at many airports to provide aural alerts to improve crew awareness of an aircraft’s actual position relative to runways and taxiways during takeoff, landing and taxi operations.