Airplane airbags: A no-brainer?

Adding airbags to your airplane is really a no-brainer.

So says Yvonne Tillyer, director of sales for AmSafe Aviation, which produces seat belts and inflatable restraints for GA, commercial and military customers.

“The technology is there for our cars, so why wouldn’t you want it in your airplane?” she asks. “It should be standard practice — we should expect it in our airplanes.”

The inflatable restraints are becoming more popular in GA, with the air bags standard equipment on airplanes made by Aviat, Cessna, Cirrus, Mooney, Maule and other manufacturers. The airbags are offered as options on many more airplanes.

“Our primary goal is to make them available for everybody,” Tillyer says. “People are constantly asking about it. They want to know when they will be available for their plane.”

The aftermarket is getting “in tune” to the importance — and desirability among customers — of the inflatable restraints, she adds. Many of the biggest names, including Cessna and Cirrus, are working on Service Bulletins to add the restraints to older models with aftermarket kits.

Selling the option is not difficult, Tillyer notes. “People understand it and how it affects them,” she says. “They’re willing to look at the technology and have it installed.”

HOW THEY WORK

Unlike air bags in cars, which are in the dashboard or steering wheel, airbags for GA are in the seatbelt harness. In a three-point restraint system, the bag is in the lap belt; in the four-point system, it is on one side, with extra padding on the other so each side weighs the same. Each restraint adds about two pounds to the weight of the aircraft.

A built-in sensor detects a “catastrophic event” and deploys the airbag. Translated, this means the bag won’t deploy on a hard landing, but rather when it needs to, AmSafe executives say.

When the bag deploys, it fills with cold compressed helium — “we don’t want to incur any heat-related injuries,” Tillyer explains. The bag fills the available space between the pilot or passenger and the panel. “It slows the velocity to help prevent neck and head injuries,” she says. “Often times, people will have a survivable accident, but they are knocked unconscious and can’t get out of the plane before a fire.”

Once deployed, the entire restraint must be replaced. “These are one-time use,” she says. “They are a nice insurance policy.”

AmSafe doesn’t have statistics on how many deployments have occurred or how many lives may have been saved using the restraints. “But we do believe it happens,” Tillyer says.

A recent deployment is under investigation, she notes, adding the inflatable restraint deployed exactly the way it was intended. “We’re glad to know that what we’re designing is out there and working,” she says.

In May, AmSafe shipped its 10,000th unit. By next May, the company hopes to have hit 20,000.

“People recognize the safety importance,” she says. “There is no reason a pilot should perish when the technology is available to save him.”

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