INSURE FOR SURE: Manufacturers and Pilots Making Safe
As Daedalus – rushing to escape a deadly Labyrinth – hurriedly cobbled together a pair of wings for him and his son Icarus, the riskiness of the design was probably something that occurred to him early in the construction phase. His invention would be vulnerable to terrain and altitude, the construction was touch-and-go at best and there is no mention of avionics in the design. Still, having no choice but to abscond by air, Daedalus shrugged his shoulder, gave Icarus a quick run-down, crossed his fingers and with the old adage “she’ll be right” the pair took the plunge.
We all know how the story goes, while Daedalus’ invention did hold together at first, Icarus failed to heed the safety brief, pushed the envelope and plummeted into the sea with feathers and melted wax trailing after him.
No one wants to play the archetype of Daedalus, rushing innovations into use before rigorous flight testing and approval, let alone safety-flouting Icarus who ended up in the drink. As modern advances shape the technological landscape, the maximisation of safety and safe-practice are integral to every aspect of aviation, from engineering and design to flight training and the safe practice of pilot and crew – with companies such as Cirrus, Diamond, BRS Aerospace, Jabiru and Symphony leading the charge.
Safety on an aircraft can be divided into two categories – active and passive. Active safety refers to the features and characteristics of an aircraft that help keep pilot and plane flying without incident. Active safety measures include good handling characteristics, continued controllability through a stall, positive stability, reliable power and excellent runway and climb performance, high crosswind capability, comfortable pilot workload, good visibility, structural integrity, dependable avionics etc.
Passive safety features help minimise damage and injury in the event of an incident. Examples of passive safety elements include structural integrity of the cabin under crashloads, impact energy absorption, effective occupant restraints, clear head strike zones and flammable fluid fire protection.
The ADS-B or Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast system is both an active and passive safety measure. As a satellite-based technology, the ADS-B allows pilots to view the location of other aircraft and provides air traffic control with a live-feed of Australia’s aviation related movements, including areas that currently have no radar coverage. The system could potentially replace radar as the primary surveillance method for regulating aircraft movements worldwide.
Shane Carmody, CASA’s acting Director of Aviation Safety said that the implementation of the system “heralds a new era in technology…[b]efore ADS-B, Australia’s electronic airspace surveillance coverage was patchy by international standards, with only around 18 per cent of the continent covered by radar. In Australia, we have been progressively introducing the technology since 2004 as we had an immediate need for air traffic surveillance that could not be easily achieved with traditional radars”. The final mandate, requiring all aircraft operating under the instrument flight rules (IFR) to be equipped with 1090 MHz extended squitter ADS-B, took effect on 2 February 2017.
The ADS-B system is made up of two different services, ADS-B Out and ADS-B In. The ADS-B Out system first involves an aircraft equipped with ADS-B determining its position via GPS. A suitable transmitter then broadcasts that position once a second, along with the aircraft’s identity, altitude, velocity and other data. Dedicated ADS-B ground stations receive the broadcasts and relay the information on to air traffic control and other equipped aircraft in the vicinity.
ADS-B In refers to an equipped aircraft receiving broadcasts and messages from ground networks to enhance situational awareness. Although ADS-B In is not subject to the mandate of ADS-B Out, having the ADS-B In system on-board facilitates direct communication with nearby aircraft as well as real-time updates of aircraft movements and weather.
The ADS-B system allows air traffic controllers to view aircraft in real time, granting them the flexibility to allocate appropriate flight levels and approve continuous rather than stepped climbs and decents. ADS-B data can also be recorded and downloaded for post-flight analysis, allowing a pilot or instructor to reflect on the flight and improve on areas lacking. And in the event of an emergency, the system also increases the accuracy and speed of a search and rescue operation. On a sidenote – the increasing use of ADS-B transponders will also mean that live feed applications such as flightradar24 will be able to live-track the increasing number of equipped aircraft, allowing those on the ground to monitor movements more accurately for plane spotting and general interest.
Aircraft without ADS-B will need to keep to uncontrolled Class G airspace below 10,000 feet or Class D airspace. They are only allowed to enter Class C and E airspace to arrive at or depart from an aerodrome, if fitted with a secondary surveillance radar (SSR) transponder. These arrangements expire on 1 January 2020, are subject to clearances from air traffic control and apply only to aircraft manufactured before 6 February 2014.
Of course, the ADS-B system isn’t the only new safety measure in the modern cockpit. The term ‘glass cockpit’ refers to a cockpit that features digital flight instruments, typically displayed on large LCD screens. Compared to an analogue system that relies on mechanical gauges to display information, a glass cockpit uses several displays driven by flight management systems that can be adjusted on multi-function screens to display flight information as needed. This simplifies aircraft operation and navigation, allowing pilots to focus on the most relevant flight data without being overloaded with surplus information that causes stress and fatigue.
In the late 1960s, glass cockpits were reserved for military aircraft. As the number of general aircraft increased, so did the capabilities of computer technology, thus the glass cockpit worked its way into the cockpits of non-military aircraft too. A transport aircraft in the mid-1970s could have over one hundred cockpit instruments and controls, with primary flight instruments stuffed with a vast array of gauges, switches, crossbars, and symbols. NASA, identifying the issue of sensory-overload in pilots, began research on a system that that could condense the aircraft systems and flight data into an integrated, easily understood display. It proved to be a success and by the end of the 1990s, LCD panels were increasingly favoured among aircraft manufacturers because of their efficiency, reliability and legibility.
The glass cockpit has become standard equipment in airliners, business jets, and military aircraft. It was even fitted into NASA’s Space Shuttle orbiters Atlantis, Columbia, Discovery, and Endeavour as well as the current Russian Soyuz TMA model spacecraft, launched in 2002. In 2003, Cirrus Design’s SR20 became the first aircraft of its type to be fully equipped with a glass cockpit, which was made standard on all Cirrus aircraft. By 2005, even basic trainers like the Piper Cherokee and Cessna 172 were shipping with glass cockpits as the preferred outfit for customers.
Naturally, as aircraft computer systems and displays have modernized, the sensors that feed them vital information have modernized too. Traditional gyroscopic flight instruments have been replaced by electronic attitude and heading reference systems (AHRS) and air data computers (ADCs), improving reliability, safety and reducing cost and maintenance.
As with the glass cockpit, often it’s commercial and military aircraft that get dibs on the latest advances in aviation safety technology, which eventually trickles down to smaller enterprises and models. Naturally, advanced features arrive in the higher end civilian aircraft first. Taking a glance at the Embraer line-up, their Executive jets now designed with safety features that were simply unheard of in business jets only a decade ago. For instance, in the cockpits of the Embraer Legacy models, the fly-by-wire environment with its revolutionary ‘normal’ and ‘direct’ modes, provide a safety net for the ‘overly aggressive’ pilot. Envelope protections monitor any human ‘mismanagement’ – overpitching will be corrected with the nose pitching up by itself to remain within engineered safety parameters. Similarly, on the stall, the aircraft will pitch down to reduce the angle of attack with no input form the pilot. Overspeed, overstress, overbank, underspeed and excessive yaw are automatically safeguarded against. Now that’s pretty impressive!
Elsewhere, the ballistic recovery system (commonly known as BRS) started at the other end of the spectrum, circumnavigating ejection seats for plans to create a parachute system that would lower an entire aircraft safely to the ground in the event of an in-flight emergency. And while it isn’t a brand new concept – the safety records of aircraft equipped with a WAPS (whole aircraft recovery system) has been a bit of a game changer in recent aviation safety.
In basic terms, the BRS works like this – a parachute is stored in the fuselage of an aircraft, either behind the back seat or in the centre section of the wing, above the cockpit. In an emergency, the pilot pulls a handle which deploys the parachute in a few tenths of a second. Once the large chute is fully deployed, the plane descends at the comfortable rate of approximately 518 m a minute. Aircraft with the BRS installed are often also equipped features that help cushion the drop, such as a crushable aluminium interior and landing gear designed for a controlled collapse during a crash-landing.
Boris Popov, the founder of BRS Aerospace, was inspired to create a full aircraft parachute system when he survived a 121 m fall from a collapsed hang-glider. According to the BRS Aerospace website, Popov explains “as I fell, I became most angry at my inability to do something, I had time to throw a parachute. I knew they existed but they hadn’t yet been introduced to the hang gliding community”.
Mr Popov went on to form BRS Aerospace in 1980, introducing the first parachute model two years later in 1982. And in the following year, the first successful recovery occurred, when Jay Tipton of Colorado activated his BRS in 1983. Tipton later wrote a letter of thanks to BRS Aerospace, writing that, “when I climbed out of the wreckage and saw my wife and 3-year-old daughter running to me from across the field, I could have cried. I absolutely wouldn’t have ever seen them again if it hadn’t been for your BRS”.
On the correspondence that he and BRS Aerospace has received over the years, Mr Popov says that “feedback is obviously one of intense emotions. Practically no one who has ever installed a BRS really thought they would ever use it, similar to a life insurance policy. The most emotional feedback is quite often from wives and mothers who thank us for saving their husbands/sons and family members from certain serious injury or death. They are our best sales persons. To date we have 372 lives saved”.
In 1998, BRS Aerospace collaborated with Cirrus to develop the first recovery parachute system for a type certified aircraft, the Cirrus SR20. The design was named the Cirrus Airframe Parachute System (CAPS) and the SR20 and subsequent SR22 went on to gain a reputation for their high safety rating.
In 2002, BRS received a supplemental type certificate to install their parachute system in the Cessna 172, followed by the Cessna 182 in 2004 and the Symphony SA-160 in 2006.
Today, there are several other systems also in development that involve the deployment of a full-aircraft parachute system. Last year the ASR (Aviation Safety Resources) developed a plan to launch the new TriChute system on a Cessna caravan. The ASR TriChute functions a little differently to the CAPS and BRS by separating the fuselage from the wings of the aircraft when activated and floating the body of the aircraft to the ground.
The future looks bright for ‘planes with parachutes’, with new and upcoming aircraft such as the Icon A5 amphibious sport aircraft, the Kestrel turboprop and Cirrus’ SF50 Vision jet all fitted with a WAPS. In regards to the direction of BRS Aerospace, Mr Popov says that “we are very actively involved in developing extremely low altitude/low and high speed capable BRS for the next generation of vertical take off and landing aircraft, many of them autonomously flown. We are also about to announce the agreement from a very well known and established legacy aircraft manufacturer who will be integrating a BRS into their new General aviation aircraft design”.
Looking ahead, Mr Popov and BRS Aerospace has given no indication of slowing down, with future projects including “… a helicopter/gyrocopters BRS, suborbital space recovery systems, autonomous BRS activation, new much lighter, more capable parachutes, military trainer BRS’, and personal jetpack BRS’ that are already flying and nearing production”.
One of the more recent shifts in aviation engineering technology is the move toward new construction materials that are lighter, more durable and even safer for the pilots and passengers tucked inside. As the latest generations of Boeing and Bombardier aircraft suggest, many manufacturers are turning to composite material for aircraft construction. Technological breakthroughs in material sciences and engineering mean that composite materials can be used to successfully improve the structural design of aircraft without the addition of unnecessary weight. Australian aircraft manufacturer Jabiru Aircraft is an example of this, producing aircraft that are largely built of composite materials, resulting in a strong and light structure.
Composites are a combination of ingredients that result in a hybrid material. Composites typically consist of two main components; fibres and a “matrix” to hold the fibres together. By combining the multiple ingredients, manufacturers can allow for a weakness in one material to be buoyed the strength of another.
As metals traditionally used in the construction of aircraft are susceptible to both fatigue and corrosion, the use of composites (which don’t corrode and are more resilient) allow for greater safety and a significant reduction in incidents caused by compromised airframes.
Composites can be designed to change shape in a predictable way with an applied load, allowing for engineers to create wings with greater aerodynamics, improving an aircraft’s response to input and weight. Engineers also are more easily able to embed sensors into the aircraft’s skin to allow pilots to monitor for signs of deterioration or damage, a capability that can significantly reduce the likelihood of a small problem growing into a larger and more dangerous situation that threatens the safety of those on board.
However, no material is perfect. In some cases, especially when subjected to cyclic stress, the layers of the composite material can separate from each other or “delaminate”, compromising the integrity of the aircraft’s construction. Evidence of delamination is often invisible on the surface of a composite material, so new non-destructive testing methods are required to root out potential problems. Thermography, which in recent years has undergone improvements in effectiveness and user-friendliness, is a process that is based on inducing a heat flow to a composite material.
Simply put, the propagation of heat flow inside a composite material directly affects the behaviour of the surface temperature. By recording the surface temperature with an infrared camera and applying mathematical analysis, an image is calculated, which shows the internal structure of the part, revealing defects in construction. Because of the increasing use of composite materials and the efficiency and ease of thermographic testing over older methods, the technique is set to become much more prevalent in ensuring the safety of plane and pilot in the future. Sometimes, of course, our tendency to over-complicate ignores the basics and safety can be improved by the simple matter of intelligent design. Tecnam, for instance, decided to locate the fuel tanks on their P2010 behind the main spar which makes them less likely to rupture if there was an accident.
Then, of course, there is the old adage that a good workman doesn’t blame his tools and that is exactly where flight training steps into the breach. And there is no safety practice more important than when a pilot is ferrying a couple of hundred passengers to and fro. There are several options for obtaining a pilot licence throughout the Asia Pacific region but one school in particular, CTC Aviation based in New Zealand, pioneers the way when it comes to flight safety. Training takes place at their state-of-the-art Crew Training Centre with students taken through their paces in new generation Diamond aircraft with G1000 glass cockpit and type specific FNPTII simulators. Upset Prevention and Recovery Training is also included as well as training and provisioning requirements for experienced pilots, instructors and examiners. The course also takes in 30 hours of cross country navigation, plenty of time to get to grips with the more advanced navigation skills and low level flying. All in all, commercial pilot graduates from CTC Aviation are taught and trained to the highest safety standards.
And, finally, with all the amazing technological advances in aircraft safety, one way to ensure the protection of your hip pocket in the event of an incident is insurance. And while the old saying that insurance is expensive until you actually need it is true, safety-orientated insurance companies will often offer discounts for pilots who take extra precautions. In regards to the BRS, Mr Popov has stated that “some insurance companies offer up to a 10% premium reduction, and/or waive the deductibles if the chute is deployed”. With newer companies like QBE and Aggressive Aviation offering plans for aircraft owners and computer technology producing quotes with greater efficiency, the competitiveness of the market has increased, bringing rates down for owners.
Tips from the Top
Michael McNamara, Manager – Aviation, QBE
How has aviation insurance developed over time?
The first aviation insurance policy was written in 1912, but didn’t really take-off until after World War II. Despite major advances in technology, the foundations of the aviation policy haven’t actually changed a great deal over the last 70 years or so. There’s the Hull Section covering the aircraft itself, and then liabilities to the passengers and to third parties. The last two sections are usually combined these days into what is known as a combined single limit. However, over time, a great number of clauses, or endorsements have been created that can form part of the policy. These cater to new developments in technology and provide additional cover to ensure all aspects of an aviation loss or accident are catered for, with the aim being to fully indemnify the client and to place them, as best as possible, in the same position they were in prior to the accident or loss taking place.
How does aviation insurance differ from other insurance types?
No two aviation risks are the same. They all differ depending on the pilots’ experience, aircraft type, aircraft uses and where the aircraft will be flown. It is for this reason that aviation insurance Policies are not homogenous products like home or motor insurance, they are all tailored to the individual. Most aviation policy wordings are based on the London Insurance Market Policy wording and then tailored to the individual with the addition of policy endorsements and clauses.
Aircraft insurance policies are generally broken into three sections. Section 1 provides cover for loss or damage to aircraft hulls, section 2 covers legal liability to third parties (other than passenger) and Section 3 covers legal liability to passengers.
Another common aviation policy in Australia is Hangarkeeper’s Liability Insurance. This is designed to cover owners and operators for their legal liability in and or around an airports. The policy can also provide legal liability cover for companies involved aircraft maintenance, sales or repairs.
What risk management and accident prevention advice would you have for current and aviators looking to insure an aircraft?
Risk management and accident prevention is key to ensuring your aircraft and/or operation is safe, reliable and efficient. Having a robust safety management system in place can be the fundamental difference between safe flying and a fatal accident. QBE is an active advocate for airmanship and offers numerous risk management initiatives and pilot proficiency programs for all different types of aircraft operations. Whether you’re operating a small light piston aircraft or fleet of commercial off-shore helicopters, we take a very proactive approach to your risk management needs. Identifying, analysing and eliminating potential risks will not only mitigate your exposures, insurers may also look at you more favourably when assessing your premium.
What policy tips would you have for people looking to insure an aircraft?
Firstly, it’s extremely important to insure your aircraft with a stable Insurer and one you can trust! Do your research on the various aviation insurers to find one that has been involved with the aviation industry over a long period of time and has deep connections with aero clubs, flying schools, regional airlines and maintenance engineers.
Secondly, to be able to get the best cover for your situation, it’s important to provide your broker or insurer with as much information as possible. No information is too much information! The more the insurer can understand about your aircraft, the pilots that fly it and what you plan to do with it, the more tailored cover and pricing can be provided. If they don’t ask for something you think could be relevant, give it to them anyway.
Lastly, give some thought to the value for which you insure your aircraft (hull). The aim is to insure your aircraft for a value that is reasonable for one with the same make, model, year of manufacture and condition as yours. As a guide, try the Aircraft Blue Book, classifieds or simply search online for aircraft similar to yours that may be up for sale.
What additional safety measures (training, equipment…) would you recommend for pilots to increase safety?
There are a number of ways a pilot can increase their safety including:
- Book in frequent flights with your instructor, rather than leaving it to the bare minimum of your annual/biennial flight review. Ask your instructor to challenge you during these flights, without the pressure of it being a review flight. Having them on board means you can try unusual or different scenarios knowing they are on board should an issue arise, meaning you will be better prepared should it occur in a real-life situation.
- Attend a pilot proficiency program for your specific aircraft type (there are many in general aviation which QBE sponsors/supports). These programs are an excellent way to educate yourself about your aircraft and improve your operational safety.
- Ensure your aircraft is adequately equipped for the type of operation(s) you conduct, and have redundancies in place should something fail. Ensure you have multiple serviceable radios, navigational aids, new / bright lights, EPIRB’s, auto-pilot and any other equipment necessary.
- Pursue knowledge about the aviation industry and never stop learning. Nobody knows it all and technology and regulations can change so seek advice from those around you and in turn share your knowledge with others. It’s a great way for everyone to do their bit by improving the safety culture of aviation in Australia.
Simulating for Safety
Rocky Rua, Flight Safety Officer ,CTC Aviation, Hamilton
How can flight simulators train pilots to handle an aircraft safely?
Modern flight simulators are very sophisticated and mimic an aircraft’s noise and movement characteristics. Trainee pilots are able to practice routine and emergency scenarios in a non-jeopardy environment. Training emergency scenarios in the air can reduce safety margins. Simulators offer the ability for more comprehensive training solutions.
What can a pilot train for in a simulator that they can’t learn in an actual aircraft?
Flight Instructors have the ability to disable multiple aircraft systems at once. One of our sim exercises is an engine fire during flight. The simulator can mimic annunciation warnings and aural alerts. The pilots are able to carry out all shutdown procedures in accordance with the QRH, whereas in the aircraft this is not recommended for simulation scenarios. Typically, Flight Instructors will talk through the scenario with touch drills to confirm actions.
How useful is it for pilots to train in a variety of simulators reflecting different aircraft models and types?
At CTC Aviation we use one type during ab-initio training and various types during advanced training dependent on customer requirements. During early stage training pilots should generally stick to a single type to avoid cross-fertilization of procedures and techniques. Often expanded procedures are type specific and pilots should focus on perfecting their skills on the type that they fly.
Have you noticed that the use of flight simulators has increased the safety of the industry overall?
In a number of flight safety investigations that I have conducted, I have noted that pilots have carried out and completed the non-normal checklist items with confidence, all of which has resulted in positive outcomes. Both our Trainees and Flight Instructors have said that their performance in these real life scenarios have been enhanced because of the time spent in the simulators. This could be said for the aviation industry as a whole.
Where do you see the use of simulators for aviation in the future?
We know that the demand for pilot training has increased and will continue to do so in the coming years. As a result of increased demand from the market and significant developments in aircraft technology, there is a need for continuous improvement in the training sector. The ever-changing demands of the airline industry will continue to drive continuous improvement in the flight training sector. The increased use of flight simulators have already been identified and are being increasingly utilized as a means to meeting market demands. At CTC Aviation we know the success of aircrew training systems and flight simulators is ultimately measured by the ability of aircrews to achieve maximum operational proficiency.