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Safety underpinned

Cabin crew achieve cabin safety everyday through diligence and careful observation, preparing for emergency cabin evacuation by way of regular high-tech training, as Paul E Eden reports


Modern technologies have made aircraft cabins considerably safer in emergency situations, but well-trained crew remain the single most important factor in an airliner crisis situation. While technology is helping keep passengers safe on board, it is also revolutionising how airlines train their cabin crew.

Aircraft have continued to become safer in operation, almost to the point where continued improvements – at least for operators working to FAA and EASA equivalent standards – are near impossible. Yet at the same time consumer technologies, particularly personal electronic devices and their lithium-ion batteries, pose new safety challenges as their use on board proliferates.

A forerunner among manufacturers developing and delivering cabin safety equipment, STG Aerospace was first to design, develop, patent and certify a photoluminescent emergency way guidance system. Its inspiration came from the Air Accidents Investigation Branch examination of the 1985 British Airtours crash at Manchester Airport which, among other lessons, highlighted the need for effective signposting of escape routes.

Known as saf-Tglo, the system today equips in excess of 11,000 aircraft serving more than 300 airlines, according to a company spokesperson. In 2015, STG introduced a major change to the line with saf-Tglo blu, abandoning the product’s traditional green luminescence for blue. No mere aesthetic change, saf-Tglo blu brings real benefits to passenger and airline alike, as STG’s spokesperson explains: “The saf-Tglo blu system conforms to the same critical regulatory standards as saf-Tglo, but de-emphasises the perception of ‘emergency’ that’s often stereotypically associated with the former’s photoluminescent green glow. For many passengers and airlines, the ambience created by the blue glow creates a calmer, more relaxing interior at night, enhancing the passenger experience and blending aesthetically with the latest LED lighting.

“Subjective studies suggest that the blue colour imparts symbolisation of trust, confidence, strength and loyalty. In addition, saf-Tglo blu enables designers to seamlessly blend safety requirements with an airline’s colour scheme and brand.”


Airline crews train regularly for cabin evacuation, especially preparing for situations where smoke or fumes might obscure vision. Andy Unwin, Cabin Safety Training Manager, Thomas Cook Airlines, says: “After classroom sessions, realistic cabin evacuation drills in a mock-up facility are held and assessed, made realistic through alarms and shouted commands. Smoke training is subsequently carried out every three years, in darkness and with the use of equipment, including breathing apparatus equipped with filters.”


Cathay Pacific has brought its cabin training facilities bang up to date with a new suite of equipment from UK-based EDM, adding to an Airbus A350 door trainer taken from the same company in 2015. Explaining the acquisition, David Lomax, Head of Ground Training in the airline’s Flight Operations Department, says: “Our equipment had not been replaced for some time – the A330 CEET [cabin emergency evacuation trainer] was 21 years old and had originally come into use when Cathay was based at Kai Tak Airport.

“The new equipment includes a Boeing 777 CEET and separate door trainer [DT]; A330 CEET and DT; Boeing 747 Freighter main deck DT and upper deck crew service DT; real fire trainer with gas-fuelled flames and water/gas-extinguishing medium to simulate real extinguishers; and a door aperture for exit slide training. With the exception of the two 747 DTs, everything was a straight replacement for existing equipment.”

Aside from obvious benefits in serviceability, Cathay’s EDM suite has introduced an array of advanced training enhancements, Lomax continues: “The new DTs offer system failures faithfully representing door jam and slide failure to inflate in auto and manual modes, plus a number of other issues taught during training. They also have window imagery simulating the outside view during ditching or a fire.

“The CEETs are a vast improvement on the technology we previously employed. They include realistic sounds, including crash, explosive decompression and ditching, and have a SEPTRE LITE system providing visuals on all the passenger windows. It adds realism to the training, delivering high-quality video of engine start, push-back, taxi, take-off, cruise, descent and landing, plus engine fires, aborted take-offs and ditching.”

EDM’s Safety and Emergency Procedure Training Reality Engine (SEPTRE) combines with its CEETs to deliver highly realistic audio during training scenarios, as well as window graphics showing a continuation of the ‘outside world’ from each window. The ‘view’ continues from window to window, so that a trainee experiencing an engine fire might look from a forward window and see fire aft, while the view from an ‘over wing’ window will show smoke and flame immediately outside.

Combined with cabin smoke and lighting effects, and a moving-platform mounted CEET, SEPTRE creates a disconcertingly real emergency training environment that includes passenger as well as aircraft sounds. In its SEPTRE LITE form the system delivers less complete ‘visuals’, with an identical scene at every window, but retains all other functionality.

Cathay’s EDM suite passed its site acceptance tests on 29 March this year, marking the point it became fully operational, and with approximately 300 crew passing through the airline’s Safety Training School every day, hundreds have already used the equipment. Lomax says there was no requirement for a wholesale redesign of courses to maximise the new equipment’s utility, but acknowledges: “With the added failure functionality, the training had to be amended to maximise its impact.”

He believes that it is currently too early to recognise improvements in training quality or crew capability, but reports: “Cabin crew like the new equipment and have provided very positive feedback that the new realism adds to the training value. And they see the obvious investment that Cathay has made in keeping safety as the number one priority.”


Cabin safety is as much about enforcing a plethora of simple rules as it is emergency evacuation. While crews ensure overhead bins are properly latched, raise seat backs and remove luggage from aisles on a daily basis – as with so much in aviation safety, their evacuation skills must be kept sharp through training – very few crew will ever perform an evacuation for real.

At Thomas Cook, Unwin says: “After initial training and examinations, recurrent cabin safety training takes place every year for pilots and cabin crew.” Lomax reports that the situation at Cathay is similar: “Crew come back every year for refresher training and if something has significantly changed or a new piece of equipment is introduced.

“In this case, a new training programme is designed and they may come back specifically for that new piece of equipment. An example of this is the introduction of the automated external defibrillator equipment recently fitted to Cathay Dragon aircraft, which required all cabin crew to undergo new training.” >>

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