27th March 2024

Strong smell of fuel in the cabin

Initial Report

On taxi out there was a strong smell of fuel in the cabin, I rang my crew at the rear to ask them and they said it was very strong. I rang the Captain and asked are we behind another aircraft and drawing in their fumes to the cabin? He said he wanted to investigate. I asked him if he would make a PA, he said not right now? The smell was very strong, I had positioning crew in the cabin and I could see the SCCM looking at me, waving her hand in front of her face indicating that there was a smell in the cabin. 10 mins went by with no communication from the flight crew to our customers and they could hear the interphone call bell going off in the cabin by myself calling my crew at the rear and the flight crew calling them too. I was very frustrated that the flight crew left it for such a long time to communicate with our customers.

In the end, I asked one of my crew to walk through the cabin to show crew visibility and I walked from the front of the cabin to meet her. I verbally spoke to the forward passengers explaining to them that the flight crew are working through some checks and that we were aware of the smell in the cabin. Shortly after the captain made a PA, explaining what they were doing. We eventually returned to stand escorted by the fire services to a remote stand. The captain came out to talk to us after customers had disembarked to complete a report asking how strong the smell was, very strong. I did say to him in front of the crew that passengers had commented that the communication took a long time, he replied our checks and investigation of the smell takes priority over communicating.

Company Comment

Cabin crew receive annual training where some sessions are joint with flight crew.  The aim of these sessions is to understand the workload associated in the flight deck when responding to an incident. Cabin crew are trained to recognise the flight crews’ order of priority: Aviate, Navigate, Communicate.

In this scenario, we know that as each minute goes by, in the cabin that could feel like it is taking far longer than it should. This is also discussed in various training courses and the perception of time when under duress. A duration of 5 to 10 minutes might not seem like a long time when we routinely talk about it, however in a pressurised situation it will feel much longer. During that time, if the conditions of the cabin change significantly the cabin crew (using the chain of command) should contact the flight crew using the emergency interphone call. We support the actions of the flight crew to focus on aviate and navigate whilst problem solving the reported incident which is likely to have increased their workload at that time e.g. communicating with the ground, using checklists etc.

Reporting (using our internal safety reporting method) is important for continuous learning and leads to reviews of procedures by the relevant teams e.g. flight operations, cabin safety and training. Real events feed into training and carve the way for us as an operator to understand a bit more about the incident and implement learnings or change, if that was recommended.

The reporter spoke to the customers, which we fully support. Providing information known at the time, and regularly helps the customers and crew know that something is going on and that the flight and/or cabin crew are responding to it. This is likely to be led by the SCCM.

CAA Comment

CRM training places emphasis on the effective use of all available information to support decision making.  In such a scenario as that described, flight crew will assess reports from the cabin crew, data from engine instruments, outside environmental conditions and possibly other sources such as ATC to ensure any actions are based on a sound decision.  Where an aircraft is on the ground and there is no immediate threat to safety, there is more opportunity to diagnose and review before committing to action.

CHIRP Comment

The cabin crew are the flight crew’s eyes, ears, and nose in the cabin, and cabin crew must report anything unusual to the flight crew as quickly as possible and safe to do so, whether it be a smell or anything visual such as smoke, or a medical incident.

We know from training that the busiest times for flight crews differ from those of cabin crews, 10 minutes can feel like it goes very quickly (final landing checks come to mind), or it can pass very slowly such as when waiting for a gate on the last sector home.

On this occasion the SCCM consulted the cabin crew at the back of the aircraft to gather more information before sharing their concerns with the flight crew, just as the flight crew would need to consult their instruments, each other, cabin crew in the relevant area, and possibly third parties (ATC, engineering, etc.) to gather more information before making a PA to the passengers. The flight crew will be attempting to diagnose the situation and advise the passengers when they have sufficient information.

The SCCM was proactive by having crew walk through the cabin and communicating with the forward passengers. This could also have been backed up with a PA from the cabin crew to advise passengers that the crew were aware of the smell and more information would be available when possible.

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