A fire that severely damaged an Air China Airbus A330-300 during boarding at Beijing Capital International Airport Aug. 27 was brought under control 57 min. after discovery, according to the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC).

An airport firefighting team arrived at the aircraft 6 min. after the fire was detected and the flight crew issued a “mayday” declaration, according to the CAAC.

The brief report gives no hint as to the cause of the fire, detected when smoke came from the forward cargo hold. Photographs on social media show the fire burned through the top of the fuselage between the wing and forward passenger doors.

Boarding of the scheduled 167 passengers for Air China flight CA183 to Tokyo Haneda began at 4:35 p.m. local time, CAAC said. The aircraft was set to operate with a three-person flight crew, 11 in the cabin and one safety officer.

At 4:48 p.m., when 147 people were aboard, the cabin crew heard an alarm for the space below the second left cabin door and smelled an irritating odor, according to the CAAC’s brief report. Seeing white smoke near the connection between the door and aerobridge, they immediately alerted the flight crew.

At the same time in the cockpit, the aircraft’s electronic centralized monitoring system issued a “smoke/fwd cargo smoke” alert. The flight crew activated fire extinguishing bottles in the hold and called “mayday.”

The crew directed passengers to quickly leave the aircraft. When they were sure that no passenger was left on board, the cabin attendants and copilots left. “The captain was the last to leave,” CAAC said.

Airport firefighters arrived in the vicinity of the forward hold at 4:54 p.m., opened the cargo door and sprayed water to extinguish the fire. At 5:45 p.m., the thick smoke was brought under control.

Although the smoke was initially white, social media photographs show it was later black—and thick enough to obscure part of Beijing Capital’s Terminal 3, where the aircraft was standing.

Air China has not stated what it will do with, or whether it will scrap, the five-year-old A330.

In a separate statement, CAAC said cargo in the forward hold comprised road-vehicle air pumps, pump parts, plastic boxes, polyester storage bags, camera lens assemblies, camera flash units, toys, sticky note paper, decorative flowers, dresses, plastic furniture, tubes for suction bells and impellers. There was no baggage in the hold. The aft hold contained clothing, wind chimes, backpacks and pendants for use with telephones. The bulk cargo space contained “mixed goods [and] sweaters,” CAAC said. No baggage is mentioned in relation to the aft hold or bulk cargo space.

Bradley Perrett, perrett@aviationweek.com

Research by Ryan Wang