Be sure to listen in on my interview on the 21Five Podcast!
On two separate recent occasions, A-350 aircraft have experienced engine failures following liquid spills on the cockpit pedestal. In another case, an aircraft had to divert from an oceanic flight due to a liquid spill.
This is not a new problem. It was described in Ernest K. Gann's novel Fate Is The Hunter, and dramatized in the 1964 movie of the same name (below).
I experienced a similar situation when I was a B737-200 First Officer. The flight attendant brought up two cups of coffee on a night flight to New Orleans, and handed them to us over the pedestal. I carefully carried my cup to the cup-holder next to the sliding window. The Captain was not so lucky. As he turned to thank the flight attendant, he spilled the entire cup of coffee onto the pedestal. The flight attendant brought up some napkins, and we dried up the mess.
A few minutes later, the number one VHF navigation receiver failed. We were in instrument conditions, and fortunately the other navigation receiver continued to operate.
Back then, cockpit cups were not provided with lids. Today they are.
To avoid cockpit spills, adhere to some common-sense rules:
Instruct flight attendants to always put lids on cups.
Instruct flight attendants to never pass liquids over the pedestal or any "glass cockpit" controls.
Secure all beverages away from instruments during periods of turbulence.