Cuisine Air ready for stricter security rules

 - May 7, 2009, 11:15 AM

Caterers providing food for business aircraft flights from UK airports are being forced to meet security requirements previously applied only to airlines. Next year, the European Commission intends to introduce new regulations to apply the same standards throughout the 27 states of the European Union.

The rules, which require full security screening for those involved in every stage of food preparation and delivery, now apply to all aircraft with a maximum takeoff weight of more than 10 metric tons (22,045 pounds) or with more than 19 passenger seats.

Effectively, caterers have to guarantee that only known and security-screened staff and suppliers are involved in the preparation, storage and delivery of food to business aircraft. All food will have to be kept in sealed boxes and delivered directly to the customer’s aircraft without the involvement of unscreened third parties.

Less Flexibility
According to Maithri Samaradivakara, marketing director with London-area specialist caterer Cuisine Air, the tighter security will inevitably reduce flexibility in the already demanding job of getting top-quality food onto flights that are subject to all sorts of other variables such as shifting departure times. For instance, if a food supplier fails to deliver an ingredient at the last minute, the caterer can’t simply go to another supplier unless that company also has been fully screened. The caterer has to specify which of its staff are legally responsible for compliance with the security rules and these people can face prosecution if they fail to ensure that all controls are met.

However, Cuisine Air, which has flight kitchens at both Luton and Biggin Hill airports, has become one of the first business aviation suppliers to become fully compliant with the new rules. It believes that the security restrictions will actually reinforce the case for aircraft operators and FBOs to use specialist caterers rather than, for instance, turning to a local restaurant for food.

Cuisine Air’s Samaradivakara told EBACE Convention News that business aircraft operators are more conscious of getting value for money from their catering vendors. “You do hear horror stories like fruit plates costing ?100 or more in places like Nice and Moscow, but companies will get away with that sort of thing only once these days,” he said.

Here at EBACE, 10-year-old Cuisine Air is exhibiting with Biggin Hill Airport (Booth No. 953). It has very small set menus, and makes just about all items on-demand in a highly personalized way. “Logistics are the key to this very demanding job,” said Samaradivakara. “The food has to arrive on time and in prime condition, which we deliver in our own temperature-controlled vans and with a detailed tracking process for all items.”

Given that business aircraft passengers routinely want to be able to change departure times for their flights, timing is the major challenge. “All hot food is prepared as if it were for restaurant customers and is then immediately blast chilled, packed and sealed to be stored and delivered,” Samaradivakara explained. “We don’t have a minimum order time; we’ll always be able to get you something in 30 minutes.”

Having said that, the company generally aims to be at an airport about 90 minutes ahead of a planned departure to allow for the possibility of a flight being brought forward. Its logistics managers monitor road traffic conditions and in the all-too-likely event of the London-area roads grid locking, it can send replacement meals from its other kitchen.

Food-preparation Training
Cuisine Air provides aircraft crew with simple but precise instructions for reheating food, and will provide them with its own in-house training manual to assist with serving. One hazard is that different models of aircraft ovens vary greatly in performance and often are not well calibrated for temperature. “Crews usually learn the quirks [of the ovens], but let’s just say that soufflés are pretty much impossible to do onboard,” said Samaradivakara. At the other end of the catering spectrum, sushi can also be very tricky, or rather potentially dangerous if not stored correctly.

The Cuisine system includes a complete log of an item’s temperature throughout the delivery process so it can guarantee that it is fit for consumption. The company uses independent auditors to check that it is meeting its own standards consistently.