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Safety first

New regulations and materials are constantly driving change in the development of the latest aircraft cabin and cargo hold safety equipment. Kerry Reals investigates

To name just a couple of examples, lighter-weight composites are making inflatable evacuation slides less bulky and heavy, while looming deadlines for ending the use of halon in cargo belly fire suppression systems have prompted the development of promising, soon-to-be-launched alternatives.


Diehl Aerosystems’ Green Fire Suppression System is one such alternative. The system replaces halon – an ozone deletion agent that will no longer be permitted for use in the freight compartments of newly-certified aircraft from 2018, under EASA and US FAA rules – with a combination of water mist and nitrogen.


The Diehl system, a finalist in this year’s Crystal Cabin Awards, has passed EASA and FAA fire suppression tests and is at the Tier 4 development stage, says Steffen Mann from Diehl’s AOA division. He expects full certification either at the end of this year or by the middle of 2017, with service entry to follow in 2018.


“This is a very smart system using new technology that is not dangerous to the aircraft or the atmosphere. We hope we can have good support from all sides to get a customer for the system,” says Mann.


A two-phase extinguishing process ensures that all four types of cargo hold fire can be suppressed by the system, Mann explains. The water vapour acts to reduce the temperature of the fire while the nitrogen starves it of oxygen. The water tank and nitrogen bottles are located adjacent to the cargo holds and common pipework, attaching to a network of nozzles that distribute the mixture throughout the affected area.


A major added advantage over halon, he continues, is that tests carried out earlier this year showed the nitrogen/water mist combination is capable of suppressing fires caused by the lithium-ion batteries contained in laptop computers and cameras.


“There will be a lot of companies searching for a halon substitute, but our system is the only one working with water and nitrogen,” says Mann. Diehl’s solution works in tandem with its smoke detection system, which sends a warning to the pilot to activate the system when smoke is present. “Our goal is to be the complete supplier for fire detection and suppression,” adds Mann.


While the 2018 deadline applies only to newly type-certified aircraft, Diehl has designed its system so that it can be retrofitted to existing models. Mann’s expectation is that the increasing price of halon will make retrofitting a more cost-effective option.


“I hope the price of halon rises and some airlines and OEMs start to say they don’t want to buy it. They will then make the investment calculations to say that, with such a high price for halon, they can go with us to update their systems,” he says. 


The retrofit process “can be done in a few days” because the new system uses the same pipework as existing fire suppression solutions. “We only have to exchange the halon tank with nitrogen and water, and we need the special nozzles,” says Mann.  >>

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