Ask the expert: Manny Gato
Question: What range of inflatable survival equipment is currently available to airfreight operators and how can they go about ensuring safe maintenance and implementation?
Expert: Manny Gato
Director of international sales, European, Asian, Middle East, Brazilian and African operations, Eastern Aero Marine
Survival of the fittest
Safety is paramount in the aviation industry, whether it's a passenger aircraft or freighter. In particular, inflatable rafts have become popular in the cargo industry, with a range of choices available in the market.
Selecting a product will depend on the type of aircraft being used. For example, the Boeing 747 generally has a three man crew, in addition to spare crews. Our most popular raft for this model, and indeed cargo freighters in general, is the T12, which is a 12 man raft with an overload design of 18 people.
We have modified this product for installation of 747 freighters and the response from cargo operators has been overwhelming. One of our largest customers for this particular raft is Eva Airways Cargo, which is using them across its fleet of 747-400 freighters.
Boosting the lifespan
In terms of inflatable survival products, the most popular options are life vests and life rafts. The inflatable vests will typically have a lifespan of five to ten years. This is normally dependent on the efficiency of maintenance and inspections, which are a necessity even if the vests are constantly in storage.
In comparison, once the inflatable rafts have left our factory, they require a two-year inspection interval after installation. The steel cylinders require yearly inspections and the composite itself requires checks every three years.
Meanwhile, the hydrostatic inspections take place every five years. Again the precise lifespan of a raft is dictated by the inspections, but in the case of composite cylinders, the US Department of Transportation requires the cylinders to be disposed of 15 years from the date of manufacture.
Our customers can take certain precautions to ensure the maximum lifespan of the products. For example, exposure to sunlight has a direct affect on the durability. However, as long as the raft keeps passing inspections, its lifespan can last forever. Last year, we received a phone call from a coast
guard saying he found one of our rafts a drift on the beach.
At first we couldn't believe it was one of ours, but then we discovered it was 31 years old. It was returned to the manufacturer and inflated with no problems.
Training day for customers
Eastern Aero Marine offers comprehensive instructions for the implementation of life rafts and vests. A manual is supplied with the product and there are also instructions on the packing and the raft itself once deployed. We offer a range of training courses too, which demonstrate the construction of a raft to the minutest detail. The amount of training required depends on the model, but it takes half a day on average.
Normally, a member from an airline will come to our training department and we will train them up, before they go back and educate their own pilots and crew.
There has been a great deal of development in the realm of inflatable survival equipment in recent years. The products are now structured around fuel savings, which of course places an emphasis on weight reduction. We have created new rafts and vests made of materials that help customers save valuable weight onboard freighters and aircrafts.
For example, we offer a life vest 100 grammes lighter than competitors, if you multiply this weight by 400 then you have a considerable saving. We have invested in researching new materials and because of the scale of our production facilities, we are able to maintain competitive prices in the global marketplace.
The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issue technical standards for life rafts and vests. We manufacture our products to meet their statistics. The technical standing order (TSO) for life rafts is TSO-C70a while for life vests its TSO-C13f. TSOs provide guidelines for both design and performance.
There are manufacturers in the market which have not been fully approved by every governing body, while Eastern Aero Marine has successfully completed this process. We have seven full time engineers and a close working relationship with both the ICAO and FAA.
We have become the leading manufacturer of inflatable survival equipment, with over 55 years of experience in the business. Our headquarters and factory are located in Florida, but we also have an international sales and support office strategically located in Dubai.