AmSafe retrofit inflatable belts coming soon for general aviation

 - September 13, 2006, 2:34 PM

In the third quarter, the FAA is expected to begin awarding supplemental type certificates for installation of AmSafe inflatable seatbelts in dozens of models of general aviation aircraft. AmSafe helped write special conditions, which the FAA published in April, to help make the STC process more efficient. The special conditions are needed because the aircraft to be STC’d are so-called “legacy” aircraft, certified before the advent of FAR 23.562 rules mandating dynamic seat testing that apply to newer aircraft. The comment period for the proposed special conditions closed on May 22.

Before issuance of the most recent special conditions covering the AmSafe inflatable seatbelts, AmSafe had to ask for special conditions for each aircraft type on which it wanted to certify aftermarket inflatable seatbelt installations. The company went through this process three times. The latest special conditions cover many general aviation aircraft and should make the STC process far simpler, according to Joseph Smith, general manager of AmSafe Inflatables Group.

For example, under the special conditions, AmSafe won’t be required to conduct dynamic testing on every single certification program. Each STC would have to show that the installation meets all applicable requirements, such as web-loading and static strength. AmSafe, which has its own dynamic testing “sled” system, would still conduct dynamic testing to make sure each model’s installation is safe and effective, said Smith.

“A couple of years ago we decided to get into the general aviation market,” Smith said, “because there was an opportunity with our product to do some good and potentially save lives, since general aviation probably experiences more crashes than any other aviation market.”

The opportunities in general aviation are not just for small aircraft, however. AmSafe is also in discussions with Cessna Aircraft, Dassault Falcon Jet and Raytheon Aircraft about installing AmSafe inflatable seatbelts in business jet divans, which would help make the forward-most divan seat approved for takeoff and landing. Adam Aircraft selected the seatbelts for its A700 VLJ.

The special conditions list many different aircraft so AmSafe doesn’t have to go back to the FAA for yet another set of special conditions each time it wants to STC another airplane for inflatable seatbelts.

“It’s an approved-models list,” Smith said. “It’s a streamlined process. [The FAA is saying] ‘Let’s get it out there, then AmSafe and the industry can try to get more airbags on aircraft.’”

Aircraft on the special-conditions list include most general aviation singles and twins and turboprops, such as Beech King Airs, Cessna Conquests, Piper Cheyennes and Twin Commanders, as well as Part 23-certified Learjet 23s.

AmSafe says it has delivered more than 10,000 inflatable seatbelts, and they are currently factory-installed on new single-engine Cessnas, Mooneys, Adam A500s, Cirruses and Aviat Huskies. There are 21 airlines flying with AmSafe inflatable seatbelts to meet the FAR 25.562 16-g and head-injury-criteria requirements in coach class bulkhead and certain other vulnerable seats, Smith said, “so they can maintain their existing layout without losing seats.” Vulnerable seats are those in which passengers could hit their head on a bulkhead or wedge their head between seats and sidewalls during an accident.

Some airlines–including Virgin Atlantic, Air New Zealand, Cyprus Airways and Air Canada–have installed the inflatable seatbelts in entire premium classes. The number of premium seats in each airplane equipped with airbags ranges from eight to 70, according to Smith.

AmSafe doesn’t have pricing for any STCs yet, because whoever packages the STC could sell the product and the installation. AmSafe will work with aircraft manufacturers that want to certify the STC and sell the seatbelts as a kit, or AmSafe will also work with independent STC companies. An example of an inflatable seatbelt price is the $1,500 per seat (seats must be done in pairs), including labor, that Cessna charges for AmSafe belts added to a 1996 or later Cessna 172, 182 or 206.
Despite the number of inflatable belts that AmSafe has delivered, Smith said, “We’ve been lucky so far; there have not been any accidents that have required the airbag to go off.”