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Safety does it

Cabin safety is achieved through a range of equipment as specialised as ground-sensing evacuation slides or as basic as the humble first-aid kit. Regardless of the situation, however, well-trained crew are an operator’s most valuable cabin safety asset, as Paul E. Eden discovers

Achieved through a combination of discrete systems, specialist equipment and overt messaging, effective commercial aircraft cabin safety relies on a single primary factor, regardless of aircraft type, airline or scenario: highly trained cabin crew. Mark Mannering-Smith, British Airways’ Manager Cabin Safety and Quality, stresses that quality crew training, matching the latest instructional techniques with state-of-the-art in-cabin equipment, is an industry foundation. “Our biggest assets are our highly trained cabin and flight crew, who are very familiar with the safety equipment and the procedures to adopt in a variety of emergency situations,” he says.


Airlines equip their cabins in accordance with EASA and other international regulations, furnishing them with a variety of compulsory equipment. Some include additional items – British Airways carries defibrillators on every flight, for example – although such equipment is generally only a regulatory requirement on longhaul services.


Mannering-Smith expands on the wealth of standard safety kit onboard BA flights: “The safety equipment on our aircraft ranges from the more recognised items, such as life jackets and fire extinguishers, to the rarely seen life rafts and flares – we have equipment to cover all eventualities. We’re prepared for an array of potential incidents. All of our aircraft have defibrillators onboard alongside the comprehensive first-aid kit. We also have both hot weather and cold weather equipment.”


Safety Briefing

From the oft-parodied crew demonstration to on-screen instruction via Hobbit, the safety briefing is a vital, but frequently ignored, component in cabin safety culture. BA works hard to maximise the effectiveness of its demonstrations, but engaging passenger attention, especially that of regular travellers, can be challenging. Mannering-Smith explains: “It’s interesting to note that safety demonstrations date back to the time of the Titanic. Safety regulation evolves, not only with the times, but also with experience and lessons learnt from previous incidents. We regularly review our safety information and ensure that we’re fully apprised of the latest developments in safety culture.


"We were early adopters of the use of video in safety demonstrations and our current animation was designed to appeal to a large audience in terms of age-range and demographic.


“We recognise that our customers are often frequent travellers who have competing demands for their attention. However, our cabin crew know that it is important to engage our customers and we have standard phrasing for safety announcements that is designed to capture their attention. We also ensure that customers know that our crew are primarily there for their safety and are happy to answer any questions relating to emergency procedures.”


BA cabin crew also actively engage customers whose behaviour might adversely affect safety announcements. “They’ll have a quiet word if they feel a customer’s action is disrupting another’s ability to view or hear the safety demonstration – by using a mobile phone for instance,” says Mannering-Smith.


Hidden Safety
Much of an aircraft’s safety equipment by nature remains hidden from passenger view unless needed. Over the lifetime of the vast majority of airframes, major systems, including passenger emergency oxygen and escape slides, are never deployed. Nonetheless, strict, carefully managed maintenance procedures ensure that they are ready should an incident occur, while developingtechnologies improve their effectiveness.


The interiors business at UTC Aerospace Systems (UTAS) includes an Inflatable Systems unit, responsible for evacuation slides and life rafts. Jim Erickson, Director of Commercial Transport, describes how its equipment is maintained in service: “Evacuation slide systems are designed to be removable from aircraft, and are portable. Slides require service every three to five years at authorised repair stations. The system is removed, unpacked and inspected. The survival equipment in slide-rafts is updated and repairs to slide fabric and components are completed. Finally, slide systems are put through a number of acceptance tests according to a Component Maintenance Manual (CMM), before being re-packed and returned to the operator’s aircraft.”


The inflatable portion of modern evacuation slides is made from a coated, nylon-based fabric that maintains its shape with minimal stretch. The fabric is covered in an aluminised paint to deflect heat, and inflation is by a system designed to maximise efficiency while using as little space inside the aircraft as possible. In UTAS slides, a high-pressure inflation bottle containing a mix of nitrogen and carbon dioxide is used, combined with an aspirator as well as other components that draw in outside air to assist the inflation process. In some instances, larger slides also employ a gas generator to support inflation. Thus the slide remains as compact as possible.


Slide deployment can be as simple as opening the cabin door and inflating the slide, but inflation is usually a managed process depending on the situation. Erickson explains: “Slides are deployed through a number of mechanical and electro-mechanical processes. One mechanism simply uses gravity. In this instance, when a crewmember opens an exit door during an emergency evacuation, slides auto-inflate through the use of an inflation bottle.


“Another possibility is ground sensing and extendable slides, used in unique evacuation scenarios. These mechanisms are often used when an aircraft lands in an adverse orientation – for example a ‘tail-tip’ position.” Tail-tip occurs when an aircraft is leaning on its tail with the nose pointing skyward. “For forward slides to be useable in this situation, they must have a safe sliding angle. In some cases, this is achieved with an extendable slide. Here, the slide length adjusts to accommodate the door’s height. Some designs can sense the aircraft’s orientation and adjust automatically, while others require manual manipulation of the extendable toe end, accessible and operated by the crew.” Once again, the importance of crew interaction is paramount.


Slides are engineered to facilitate escape from forward, overwing, rear and (more recently) upper deck doors, in a variety of attitudes. There is little difference in challenge for a passenger using any of these slides compared to another, although slide design varies considerably. “Demands on passengers are not significantly different between main deck, upper deck, and overwing evacuations,” says Erickson. “Upper deck slides, however, are much longer than main deck slides, while overwing slides generally include ramps leading to the evacuation slide, and require passengers to move across the wing through an enclosed area outside the overwing exit.


“All slide designs must meet requirements found in technical standard orders such as FAA TSO-C69. Even though upper deck slides are longer, they must perform in the same fashion as main deck evacuation slides. Additional gas is required to inflate longer slide, and there are times when additional structure is necessary to ensure slide performance in windy conditions.” >>

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