Even seemingly remote SMS scenarios should be judged by relevant data

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Water cannon salute backfires at Dubai International Airport

Unlikely event, should it be considered under SMS?

Water Cannon Greeting as risk?

Interesting Data!!!

So you are HH Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed al Maktoum, Chairman of Dubai Airports; President of the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority and you take your leadership role of DXB’s safety role seriously. The HH decides to chair the airport’s initial Safety Risk Management task force and in preparation for this SMS important exercise are reviewing the scenarios to be review by the 3600 team.

One situation on the list seems to be preposterous and you are inclined to delete so the group of busy executives, directors, managers and all manner of workers. Given your sense that the likelihood of the event causing a serious safety risk, HH deletes it so they can devote more time to events more probable for problems.

This hypothetical becomes more instructive when this contrived story is joined with a recent accident which would likely be cut from an RSM agenda—

Well that absurd plot became a reality at DXB when pilots landed Saudi Arabian Airlines Airbus A320 at Dubai International Airport (DXB) in September 2018. As they taxied towards their gate, they faced the oddity of seeing a pair of fire engines parked on either side of their path. As the plane approached, the pilots were surprised by the creation of a water canon arc, a gesture given to inaugural flights.

Their bad luck was that the left firefighting vehicle turned out to have a roof turret problem, causing the high-pressure water jet suddenly sprayed up and down. The force of the water stream opened the left forward over-wing emergency exit hatch. The hatch fell into the cabin. The left over-wing emergency slide ramp deployed. The master warning system alerted/sounded.

“[The flight crew] were not aware that a water salute had been arranged on arrival at the gate and therefore they could not inform the cabin crew or passengers prior to the event,” the GCAA report states.


During the incident, one passenger, sitting next to the emergency exit, was “slightly” injured, who received medical attention. The A320, however, had to have a new emergency slide pack installed. The repair is complicated and took some time. Eventually, the plane continued on its original itinerary.






The accident report by the UAE General Civil Aviation Authority recognized that the process of water salutes is not generally formalized by airlines, airport operators, or airport fire services. The GCAA’s report, though, found three previous instances in which the water cannon ceremony did not go well:

  • In March 2015, a Virgin Airlines Airbus A330 sustained damage to both engines when, after an inaugural flight from Manchester, the UK, to Atlanta, the United States, foam instead of water was sprayed during a water salute. The subsequent flight was canceled.
  • A Japan Airlines Boeing 787 sustained damage to the wing in 2014 at Tampa International Airport, the United States, when, during a water salute, the right wing hit the water turret of the fire vehicle, which was parked too close to the taxiway. Water salutes at the airport were suspended as a result.
  • In 2006, a United Airlines Boeing B777 sustained engine damage, when firefighters decided to swap water with fire-fighting foam, during a water salute to celebrate a retiring airline pilot, at Dulles Airport, the United States.


So, HH Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed al Maktoum’s hypothetical decision to exclude the fire engine greeting probably met the statistical standard for being dropped from the agenda. However, as absurd as the initial premise seemed, there was history—gut reactions should not be the basis, data should.


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