US-bound flight had to turn around after coffee spilt in cockpit

Flight operator changed procedure to ensure cup lids are provided

Flight operator has issued  flight crew notice reminding pilots to be careful with liquids. Photograph: iStock

Flight operator has issued flight crew notice reminding pilots to be careful with liquids. Photograph: iStock


A cup of coffee that was accidentally spilt onto a panel in the cockpit of a transatlantic flight forced to crew to turn around and divert to Shannon Airport.

The UK’s Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB) has released its reported into the ‘serious incident’ which occurred on February 6th this year.

There were 326 passengers and 11 crew on board Condor flight DE-2116 which was travelling from Frankfurt, Germany to Cancun in Mexico.

The aircraft overflew Ireland at around 3.40pm and was about two hours west of the country when the crew issued a May-Day radio distress call and made a U-turn. The crew reported they had detected smoke in the cockpit and requested clearance to turn around and divert to Shannon.

On the ground, airport authorities implemented Shannon Airport’s emergency plan which also involved alerting the National Ambulance Service, local authority fire service and An Garda.

As the Airbus A330-200 jet approached the Irish coast the crew dumped aviation fuel over the ocean to ensure they touched down within safe landing-weight limits. The flight landed safely at 7.13pm and was pursued along the runway by crash crews.

The airline confirmed at the time: “Flight DE2116 from Frankfurt to Cancun diverted to Shannon airport as a precautionary measure due to smoke caused by a liquid spillage on electronic devices in the cockpit. The aircraft was fully inspected and repaired by our team of engineers.”

The AAIB reported confirms: “The commander was pilot monitoring. He put the coffee on his tray table while he completed tasks required due to approaching a waypoint. At approximately 16.20 hrs, the cup was knocked over. Most of the liquid fell onto the commander’s lap and a small amount spilled onto the commander’s audio control panel (ACP).

“The coffee on the centre console was dried quickly but resulted in immediate malfunction of ACP1 that affected VHF transmissions and public address announcements from this unit. The crew attempted to isolate ACP1 but it was not possible to do this from the flight deck.

“Subsequently, the ACP1 unit became very hot and failed and pilot’s side (ACP2) became hot enough to start melting one of its buttons, and failed. A small amount of smoke was observed coming from the ACP1. The commander decided to divert to Shannon, Republic of Ireland. During the diversion, the flight crew alternately used supplementary oxygen, with one pilot on oxygen at all times.”

The investigation also found: “The size of cups used by this operator on this route made it more difficult to take cups in and out of the cup holder than larger cups that have a bigger area at the top of the cup holder to grasp. This incompatibility generally discouraged use of the cup holder, despite the policy. In the A330, flight crew were provided with a table in front of them, and it was a natural place to put a drink momentarily. However, objects here are vulnerable to being knocked over because it is a fold out table in a small space.”

Investigators concluded: “A spillage of coffee on to the centre console led to the failure of ACP 1 and 2 resulting in communication difficulties for the flight crew. The resulting electrical burning smell and smoke in the cockpit necessitated a diversion to Shannon Airport.”

The report has confirmed that: “The operator changed their procedure to ensure that cup lids are provided for flights on all routes and reminded cabin crew of the requirement to use them. The operator also issued a flight crew notice reminding pilots to be careful with liquids. The operator raised an action to source and supply appropriately sized cups for the aircraft’s cup holders.”