Sunaero’s quick fixes aim to plug fuel leaks

 - July 16, 2010, 11:50 PM

Sunaero is here at the Farnborough show (Hall 1 Stand A15) promoting its quick-repair equipment and services for repair of fuel leaks in military and civil aircraft. The trend in this area is toward smaller, more portable hardware, a spokesman said. The French company is also developing a new solution for composite material repair, he noted.

Although air forces generally don’t acknowledge it, fuel leaks rank second in aircraft-on-ground issues, just after engine failures, with some of them resulting from combat damage, said Sunaero’s vice president for quality and training Thierry Regond. Since the 1990s, when DGA, France’s defense procurement agency, commissioned the company to work on the problem, the firm has been offering a range of solutions for leak detection and repair, with a focus on achieving shorter turnaround times.

Sunaero’s processes allow technicians to mend the aircraft in eight hours. “Sealants usually polymerize in 72 hours,” Regond told AIN, but can take longer in cold air, he added. The technology hinges on low-temperature infrared emissions, he said, explaining that so-called thermoreactors (also known as rapid curing devices, or RCDs) accelerate the polymerization process, completing it overnight. RCDs also can be used to repair a leak on the windscreen or to polymerize some special military coatings.

Leak detectors that use a tracer gas to can help technicians visualize three different pressure levels in several fuel tanks at a time, are also in Sunaero’s product range. Among its other products are desealing processes that use pneumatic and vibrant tools.

The leak detection process still uses a sort of air computer, where the signal is pneumatic, but Sunaero also offers electronic systems for greater flexibility. All these systems have a number of safety features, mainly to avoid human error. For example, they warn the operator if the tank still contains too much fuel for the test.

So far, Sunaero has found military customers in its home country, as well as in the Middle East, Australia and northern Europe. Most contracts are for hardware, technician training and hardware maintenance, and some sales include on-site operational assistance, Regond said.

Regond also said he sees growth potential in the civil market. “We have to explain that our system’s cost can be recouped in two repair events,” he said, estimating that the daily cost of a commercial airliner being stuck on the ground can be between $110,000 and $180,000. Sunaero solutions are shown as approved in Airbus and Boeing maintenance manuals.

The leak repair kits–for both civil and military markets–are transportable. To carry them, the company offers pairs of 70-pound suitcases (rather than much heavier carts) containing all the detection and repair equipment. Airlines can transport them them as luggage, but the suitcases must be designed to be shock-proof to withstand rough handling.

Sunaero also is developing new repair methods for composite parts. “We aim at making deep repairs without the need for part removal or an autoclave,” Regond explained. The target turnaround time is eight hours.

The company employs a staff of 12 in France, mainly engaged in research and development. In the U.S., where its Aerowing subsidiary has fulfilled U.S. Air Force contracts, it employs 28, mostly in production.