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AIRCRAFT FUEL TANK SAFETY AND COMPLIANCE

Aviation is the Branch of Engineering that is Least Forgiving of Mistakes

Freeman Dyson

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Exclusive Interview with Michael Williams, President of Jetaire Group, on Aircraft Fuel Tank Safety



With a string of global certifications behind their name, Jetaire is going strong in aircraft fuel tank safety market and standing behind the name is the man as mighty as the brand itself – Michael Williams, President of Jetaire Group. With an experience of over three decades in aviation, Michael tells us how he built the brand INVICTA, how is INVICTA different from other fuel tank ignition mitigation systems in the market, the impact of pandemic on Jetaire and much more.

Q – At the beginning I would like to congratulate you on your latest success with INVICTA for receiving a series of global certifications. Can you tell our readers about the expansion plan of INVICTA going ahead?

A- As part of our ongoing expansion, we recently gained our European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) certification for the A320 and B737 fleets and the Agencia Federal de Aviación Civil (AFAC) certification for our INVICTA system for the B737 from the Mexican Aviation Airworthiness Authority. We also received certification from the National Civil Aviation Agency of Brazil (ANAC) for the A320 and B737 fleets series aircraft. This set of certifications expands Jetaire Group’s footprint into some of the most active aerospace markets in the world.

Q – How is INVICTA different from other fuel tank ignition mitigation systems available in the market?

A- Nitrogen inerting systems require frequent maintenance and often, full replacement due to the effects of high levels of ozone. Our Invicta System is designed with a lightweight, electrically conductive, reticulated polyurethane foam that suppresses ignition propagation caused by sparks including a lightning strike or static discharge. This method utilizes flexible foam material inserted into the fuel tank which provides ignition mitigation and minimizes the risk of explosion in the tank.

Jetaire’s Invicta Ignition Mitigation/Flammability Reduction system utilizes the only foam-based solution patented by the United States Patent and Trademark Office. It meets all requirements needed for FTFR Rule and FAR 25.981 and is considered the most reliable mitigation to fuel tank flammability in the industry. Our Invicta system is unique in it has a 20+ life limit, requires no maintenance, and has a zero-failure rate. We have aircraft that have been in operation for a number of years with no maintenance.

Q – Jetaire provides certain custom safety features for airlines, cargo and engine zones. Can you explain to our readers a few of these unique features?

A- Jetaire’s legacy is in the creation and support of systems that enhance safety on Transport Category aircraft. Over thirty-five years ago we developed Supplemental Type Certificates (STC) for Floor Proximity Lighting Systems that are now a standard fit for virtually all passenger carrying aircraft worldwide.

We were the first to develop aftermarket Smoke Detection and Fire Suppression systems as part of a series of FAA mandates for the B727, B737, MD80, MD90 and L-1011 aircraft. We were the first company to certify such a system.

We were also the first to develop a non-OEM solution to the requirements of FAA mandates and developed Invicta as a Means of Compliance to 14 CFR 25.981. Our innovations in Invicta were recognized as unique enough to justify the issuance of three patents by the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

Q – How are you dealing with the pre and post COVID-19 pandemic effects? As the aviation sector slowly gears up, how do you see the growth chart of Jetaire in near future?

A- As indicated earlier, Jetaire’s core business is the development of safety enhancements to regulatory requirements. Currently approximately twenty countries have mandated 25.981 for Boeing and Airbus fleets, and additional countries are considering mandates which opens tremendous growth opportunities for us.

Jetaire continues to grow and strengthen their position as leaders in Aircraft Fuel Tank Safety and we recently added two new patents to our portfolio. We have enjoyed a financially good year in 2020 and anticipate 2021 and beyond to be substantial growth years. Providing solutions to regulatory mandates helps to ensure that we are minimally impacted by economic downturns regardless of the cause.

Q – FAA has recently given a green signal to Boeing 737 Max, what is your take on this news? Do you feel other regulators will follow suit?

A- I believe the FAA has accomplished an exhaustive review of the affected systems and have made the appropriate corrective actions on the recertification efforts undertaken by the FAA and EASA. Given those factors, I think the others will follow suit, with perhaps minor variations in procedures.

Q – How do you see the aftermarket recovery in the MRO sector in post-pandemic phase? Boeing has predicted that China will show a robust growth in the aviation sector and the Middle East has also started showing positive growth signs, your views.

A – As the world recovers from the pandemic, I expect to see positive growth, and potentially some pent-up demand. I think the world is ready to get back to normal and we are already experiencing an uptick in commercial airline travel.

Q – Ensuring Aircraft Safety enhancements is a risk-based business. Can you tell us about your most challenging experience so far and how did you deal with it?

A – The most challenging project in my career was with the certification of INVICTA as means of compliance for FAR 25.981. It was challenging because we were offering a concept that was quite different from the Boeing and Airbus solutions. It was also challenging because the FAA did not have a defined process for certification of such a technology; so essentially, we were engaged in certification of a new/novel technology. We have to make proposals to the FAA on how you would certify the technology and their specialists have to determine that the proposed method could be seen as a means of compliance to the myriad of regulations that are associated with modification.

Though the ultimate objective was compliance with FAR 25.981, we also had to show compliance with approximately 50 other FAA regulations that were either directly or indirectly related to the modification. We had to reach concurrence on the method of compliance for each one of these regulations, by one or more techniques (Design, Test, Analysis, Inspection, or Other). Once we have made a proposal of for the method of compliance for each regulation, we then had to reach agreement on the specific details of each one of those proposals.

It is a long process that involves multiple FAA offices (The FAA Transport Directorate in Seattle, FAA headquarters in Washington as well as the Regional Aircraft Certification group). Any one of those organizations could disagree with your method of compliance for a particular regulation and the entire process must restart. We have been responsible for close to 100 Supplemental Type Certificates, but this was by far was the most difficult. We were encouraged by at least one person within the FAA system who stated (off the record) that our technology should be employed on every aircraft flying. That encouragement along with our 30 plus year experience developing and certifying systems under the FAA rules gave us great confidence that we would prevail at the end of the day.

It was also difficult because were we offering a novel approach, there were elements in the FAA that that pressured us to use the OEM solution. We had to resist the pressure if it did not go well with some in the FAA, but we knew we had a technology that was far superior to the nitrogen inerting systems that Boeing and Airbus were proposing.

We survived this arduous task by being able to make a substantial case in each one of those regulations that we had to comply with and standing our ground because we knew we were correct. The beauty of the FAA systems is that all regulations are written, and most FAA policy is available if you know where to look. This makes the FAA being arbitrary or capricious somewhat difficult. We are a relatively small company fighting a giant for what is right.

Q – Innovation will be the key to survival for aviation sector in future – Your views.

A- We have always viewed our ability to develop unique solutions to regulatory mandates as a core strength. We have been successful in certifying innovative solutions in part because of my background as an FAA Designated Engineering Representative (DER) for over thirty-five years. The combination of our technical skills and thorough understanding of the intent of new regulations being proposed has been the key to our success.

Invicta is an example of innovative thinking. While others assumed the conventional route of going with the OEM solution; we knew that there was a better way to approach the ignition mitigation problem. We knew from a review of the FTFS/NEA (Airbus/Boeing) schematics that the systems would be labor intensive to install and difficult to maintain. As it turned out, those systems are often ranked in the top five reliability problems for the airlines that use them. Having responsibility for maintaining systems for my client base over the years, we understood the importance of dispatch reliability. We took an Occam’s Razor approach to Invicta’s development and have developed the most reliable mitigation solution to fuel tank flammability in the industry.

(Occam’s razor is the principle that, of two explanations that account for all the facts, the simpler one is more likely to be correct.)

Q – A recent study has proved that the chances of COVID infection on a flight is less than getting struck by lightning. Do you feel confident to travel again by air?

A- The study I reviewed made several assumptions that did not represent real-world scenarios. Their scenario assumes that everyone on the aircraft wears mask, and that the masks are appropriately worn (not below their noses). However, when in public I see a large percentage of people improperly using their mask which makes their use ineffective. Until the recent vaccines are widely distributed, I and my associates will limit our travel on commercial aircraft.