By Wayne Rosenkrans
AeroSafety World, April 2008
(Expanded version of article)
Airbus shared lessons from its full-scale emergency evacuation demonstration on the A380-800 — many applicable to cabin crews of any airliner — during the International Aircraft Cabin Safety Symposium in Montreal in February 2008. Videos of the evacuation, as recorded by overhead interior cameras, revealed more clues to how the two pursers and 16 flight attendants in March 2006 evacuated 873 people in 78 seconds via three upper-deck slides and five lower-deck slides in Hamburg, Germany (ASW, 1/07, p. 46). This cabin crew was drawn from a pool of 42 Lufthansa line crewmembers selected under regulatory criteria to represent an average cabin crew in age, training, experience and other attributes.
“The behavior and assertiveness of the cabin crew had a great impact on the speed with which they managed and directed the passengers and the exits,” said Carmen Jacobs, cabin crew training policy manager, Airbus Training and Flight Operations Support and Services. The successful evacuation in less than 90 seconds “came about with the crowd-control techniques, our attitude and our different approach as instructors towards the cabin crew we were training,” she said. “The crowd-control techniques can be used for any type aircraft.”
The A380 is equipped only with Type A exit doors, with the eight pairs designated forward to aft on the main deck as M1, M2, M3 (overwing), M4 and M5, and on the upper deck as U1, U2 and U3. Type-specific challenges included inherent difficulty working with the highest-density cabin seating layout; overcoming the lack of a direct view while attracting passengers to an exit; communicating as a crew in large crowded spaces; and stopping any upper-deck passengers from descending the stairs to use the same door where they boarded.
Training on a subset of the type-specific curriculum comprised 14 hours, half theory/half practice, over three days, plus a half-day visit to the demonstration aircraft. “During the aircraft visit, trainees were all told to look around, try out every cabin crew station and stand in every assist space,” Jacobs said. “They had to check what they could see and with whom they could communicate.”
Jacobs and her colleagues decided at the outset that psychological preparations would be essential — specifically for each flight attendant to be able to continuously manage the situation, be assertive and be direct. Training would prepare them to mentally focus on their crowd-control techniques, not on the crowd. “We had to work with attitude — we had to give the crew confidence in being able to handle a crowd,” she said. “We had to teach them [not] that they can be in control — that they are in control.”
Asserting control then called for specific attention on how to combine conventional commands with delivery techniques that likely would work even for passengers who do not know the language being spoken by the cabin crew. “We started off with teaching them how to shout,” Jacobs said. “Assertive, short, loud and clear commands have no meaning without the correct body language, gestures and facial expressions. There is no point in shouting a command with a big smile on your face — no one will take you seriously. Gestures are as important as commands and should be used in tandem.” The videos show all the flight attendants shouting and gesturing at a high level of intensity, as if expressing extreme anger to all the passengers.
Instructors deliberately spent time building trust and friendship during breaks/lunches, mixing humor and frequent reminders that each flight attendant is in control with personal challenges to perform at their best. “We worked with their individuality … their personalities and skills,” Jacobs said. “They all encouraged one another to practice being able to do things simultaneously and to increase the speed of their actions.”
One counterintuitive difference for the flight attendants, all accustomed to other aircraft types, was the A380’s overwing slide. “[It] has a very large platform, so we taught them how to ‘sequence’ … to limit the number of passengers evacuating to keep a constant flow at this exit,” she said. “That is not a very natural instinct for cabin crew … we all are trained not to stop passengers unless there is something wrong and the slide is out of use.”
In the classroom, the cabin crewmembers studied how the main deck evacuation flow rate might become slower at M2/M4 doors, expected to be high-density areas because they are in front of and behind the overwing slides, respectively. Flight attendants knew they would have to respond immediately in this case by redirecting passengers to bypass exits that became too crowded and to use the “easy dry up” M1 and M5 exits, where evacuation flows likely would be lighter. “On the upper deck, [for another example,] we identified [the U1] forward doors as a high-density area and the aft exits [as] easy dry-up exits [meaning] that we had to evacuate passengers from even the U1 area … through the U2 emergency exits,” Jacobs said. “This is something that everybody can do with whatever aircraft type you fly.”