How a Plane’s Water Cannon Salute Went Wrong and Popped the Emergency Slide

Water cannon salutes are a common way to celebrate or mark an aviation milestone. Fire trucks line up to spray water over an arriving or departing flight. This may last a couple of minutes and use up to 3000 gallons of water.

It may be done to mark an inaugural flight – of an aircraft, or an airline’s first flight to an airport – or a retirement, of a senior captain, or an aircraft type. It isn’t unique to aviation, as fireboats give water salutes to ships as well.

The first time Qantas brought an Airbus A380 to Dallas Fort-Worth, they painted a cowboy hat on the kangaroo on the tail. The plane received a water cannon salute from the airport.

Months later I was on board American’s inaugural Boeing 787-8 departure and we received a water cannon salute. Photos from inside the aircraft during such a salute often aren’t as good, because the windows are covered with.. water.

Here’s the final air berlin arrival in Dusseldorf receiving a water cannon salute. The airline ceased operations afterward.

President-elect Trump received one as he departed New York LaGuardia to make his first trip to DC.

Water cannon salutes, though, can go wrong. In the fall a Saudia Airbus A320 was met with a salute as it arrived in Dubai, to celebrate their country’s National Day. The water hitting the aircraft caused one of the plane’s emergency slides to deploy.

Via Paddle Your Own Kanoo we the UAE’s civil aviation authority released its report into what happened.

  • Overwing exits are normally opened by passengers or crew in an emergency but the A320 exits can be opened from the outside as well.

  • Water hit in just the right spot “to push the panel on the control handle inwards but it also forced the control lever up and out – the slide was instantly activated.”

The water spray wasn’t functioning properly, and wasn’t under full control (initially it was spraying way too high). The cockpit crew thought a passenger had opened the exit door. The passenger sitting beside the exit was injured. The plane wasn’t fixed in Dubai before it left – it was permitted to fly back to Saudi Arabia where the slide was replaced.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. In the Middle East, isnt water too expensive to be used for something like this?
    Is Airbus considering a modification of the door latch?

  2. Recognize that this is a maneuver airport rescue crews would not be spending a lot of time practicing, but imagine best plan is have both cannon shots intersect directly over the aircraft.

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