Of cabin interiors & safety

There have been numerous incidents of airline passengers expressing their displeasure on aircraft cabin interiors and appearances in the country in recent times. Naveen Chawla, CEO, Epsilon Aerospace, offers insights into the world of cabin interiors and how it can contribute to the overall safety of passengers.

Recently, airline passengers in India have expressed their displeasure on aircraft cabin interiors and appearance. In April 2022, Civil Aviation Authority in India ordered a Boeing 737 airplane to be grounded.

This was a resultant effect of a passenger who tweeted his discomfort about cabin appearance. The tweet contained pictures of the ragged cabin interiors. It also showed broken or missing panels. Thus, questioning the plane’s interior conditions and hence airworthiness. Another passenger tweeted pictures of one more airline operating in India with Airbus A320 fleet. The picture highlighted worn-out interiors and broken seat parts. All these incidents and passengers’ awareness about aircraft interiors, raise questions about the practices of the airline maintenance department or service providers.

There are possibly airlines that consider a safe and clean cabin as a hallmark for their brand positioning, while others may view aircraft cabins as the first element where they can keep the cost to bare minimum. This might sometimes lead the latter to use sub-standard or non-approved material for repairs, local fabrications, incorrect process, or they may simply allow aircrafts with broken cabin parts to operate. Hence, causing nuisance or perhaps safety hazards for the travellers.

The aviation regulations dictate a stringent norm for production and maintenance of aircraft interiors. For instance, it is understood that to manufacture or fabricate an aeronautical product for commercial use, it is important to have Civil Aviation Requirement (CAR) 21 Subpart G approval. While maintenance of the aircraft cabin can be done by the airlines or any service provider that has CAR 145 approval, what it means is that any production has to follow an approved design and then the manufacturing of that part using Aviation approved or fire-retardant materials. These materials must pass through any requirement of ‘fire resistant or retardant’ testing. Under Maintenance approval 145, the airlines or service provider can then only repair the cabin interior parts. However, for repairs too, the consumables used must be Aviation approved or it may also require certificate of compliance of any fire safety norms. All furnishing or repaired part must accompany with airworthiness tag along with burn certificate, as necessary. The aviation authorities are quite firm on these norms.

However, when compromising on quality and cost, the airlines or service providers may tend to find short-cuts. This implicitly may lead to violation of safety norms as imposed by the regulators. For example, manufacturing parts for the aircraft cabin such as composite or plastic parts, seat covers or signages without using the approved designs or aviation grade consumables will be against the norms. Under CAR 21 Subpart G, such lapses by service providers or airlines are unlikely to occur. Any compromise of these approvals or norms, therefore, might lead to inconvenience or even cause unwanted injuries during any incident. For instance, the latest incident in India of a Boeing 737 facing turbulence is not related to aircraft upkeep. However, it did raise questions about the practices of the airline’s maintenance department that cleared the aircraft to take off despite damage to its interiors being reported.

Hence, it is time that regulatory developments in India lead to a renewed focus on the safety parameters and overall appearance of the aircraft cabin. This will only standardize the industry in terms of performance requirements. Unlike in other areas of maintenance of aircraft engines and airframes where a high level of standardization exists, the standardization in the aircraft cabin arena is also a must. Any production or maintenance of aircraft parts, interior or exterior, therefore, must comply with the set regulations as mentioned above. Airlines or service providers must be brought to the task for any violation. Gone are the days when customers’ unawareness about cabin safety was taken for granted. This, in turn, had led to quick-fixes or usage of substandard, non-approved materials causing hazard to the passengers.

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