“Four- and five-point restraints more widely distribute the loads, tend to keep the occupant in the right place for the restraint to work, and limit side to side motion,” says aerospace engineer Robert Stegeman with the FAA’s Policy and Innovation Division and member of the crashworthiness working group. “These restraints, by far, offer the best bang for your buck in upgrading your odds in crashworthiness,” adds Stegeman. If your aircraft was built before 1987 and lacks this safety enhancement, Stegeman suggests checking with your original equipment manufacturer (OEM) or your local type club for ways to get shoulder harnesses in your airplane.
The working group also noted the existence of other restraint solutions that can lead to increased survivability: inflatables, pre-tensioners, load limiters, and more robust restraints overall. “Inflatable restraints take normal restraints to a new level, allowing an extreme forward impact to be more survivable,” says Stegeman. Since aviation inflatable solutions are almost always integrated into a restraint system, it’s possible to kill two birds with one stone.
When it comes to seeking out ideas for enhancing cockpit safety, Stegeman suggests checking with type clubs and the open market to see what others have used. “If you have an idea that requires more modification than AC 43-13-2B, Acceptable Methods, Techniques, and Practices — Aircraft Alterations, allows, talk to your FSDO inspector. If necessary, they can collaborate with the local Aircraft Certification Office. The FAA is open to reasonable ideas that don’t otherwise compromise the airplane structure and don’t make a crash situation worse — like having a poorly attached shoulder belt reel break loose in a crash.” Also, be sure your restraints are installed using the appropriate materials and data and are properly inspected and maintained. See the FAA’s Information for Operators (InFO) 17004 or this issue’s Nuts, Bolts, and Electrons department for more details.
When it comes to seeking out ideas for enhancing cockpit safety, check with type clubs and the open market to see what others have used.
In its final report, the working group also pointed to the need for pathways to connect aircraft owners with technologies used in other industries and, where possible, to accept non-aviation specifications to speed the adoption of life-saving equipment. This approach could prove particularly important down the road with regard to lateral safety requirements, an area not currently covered in aviation regulations but which, according to the study, holds great promise in reducing fatal injuries. The focus now, however, is on restraint systems and mitigating forward impact injuries with practical innovation.
ASTM International’s F44 General Aviation Committee is now considering the working group’s recommendations as possible candidates for new, globally accepted consensus standards. This outcome would be a game-changer for operators and manufacturers. Not only would it spur innovation and increase the flexibility for compliance to new crashworthiness solutions, but it would also play an important role in minimizing cost. That would be a lifesaver in more ways than one. Stay tuned for more!
Tom Hoffmann is the managing editor of FAA Safety Briefing. He is a commercial pilot and holds an A&P certificate.
This article was originally published in the May/June 2019 issue of FAA Safety Briefing magazine.