Servecorp, part of Trenchard Aviation Group, is one of the leading specialists in the field of aircraft cabin security. The company manufactures a range of patented products designed to meet all regulatory requirements and provide secure, reliable and innovative solutions for customers worldwide. Over the last decade, the ServestowTM ultra- lightweight, security compliant, Life Vest Stowage range and StowlokTM tamper-evident security seals have provided airlines with answers to the ever-changing demands of security compliance. There are currently more than 1 million ServestowTM products in service and, in 2017, Servecorp won two Queen’s Awards for Enterprise – for Innovation and International Trade.
Q. You recently launched the Servecorp LVS100 series Life Vest Pouch – what is the background to this series?
A. As far as the background to the ServestowTM product is concerned, it starts with the tragedy of 9/11. After that event, the US Transportation Security Administration, or the US TSA, issued an Emergency Amendment to cover all international flights into and out of the United States. Basically, that directive says that oneach first flight in or out of the country, 100%of the life vest pouches must be searched by physically removing the vest from the pouch and, thereafter, a certain percentage of them must be searched on any turnaround flight.
As you can imagine, that created a large task for the airlines inasmuch as it’s a very time- consuming process. But there’s a caveat in the directive that says if the pouches have a tamper- evident seal, only the integrity of the seal and the area around the pouch needs to be checked, but the life vest does not need to be removed from the pouch. So, several airlines approached the company I was then working for and asked us for a sealed pouch solution.
We immediately launched a design and development programme but all existing pouches at that time were made from a very coarse material and none of the sealing methods we tried worked effectively. So, we took a step back and thought, well, what if we designed a pouch specifically to fulfil those security requirements. Which is what we did.
At that stage the company I was with didn’t have any broad experience in the aviation field and definitely no manufacturing capability for the aviation market. So we approached Servecorp which was a well-known name in aviation cabin support and also had the necessary manufacturing approvals. Serial production began in 2006 with the LVS88.
I then joined Servecorp in 2010 and, as the requirements became more stringent, we developed several new models over a period of years. In 2014, we came up with the LVS99 followed by the LVS99S in 2015 which could incorporate three different types of seal in one pouch design – a tamper-void seal, a plastic pull- type seal and, more recently, a RFID seal.
Q. Could you explain RFID for me?
A. Right, well RFID stands for Radio Frequency Identification and the RFID seal contains an electronic device which responds to a signal sent from a RFID reader device. So, a security- checked member of the airline staff or an independent security officer can simply walk through the aircraft with a handheld reader which is linked to a central database that holds information on what seats and what seals should be on that aircraft. The reader gets a response signal back from an intact RFID seal, but a tampered seal will not respond which then indicates that particular pouch needs checking. The RFID reader then transmits that information to the database from which any updates can be collated and reports printed out or emailed.
The big advantage of RFID seals is that they cut down the search and inspection time from several man hours to literally minutes because you just walk through the aircraft with a handheld meter looking for signal responses back.
Q. Does Servecorp actually make the RFID tags and seals as well as the Life Vest pouches?
A. No, that’s not really part of our core business, so we have preferred partners who supply the RFID tags and seals and we choose them based on the customisation and user friendliness of their system.
Q. If the system identifies a pouch that has been tampered with, what happens then?
A. As stated in the TSA requirement, the pouch is then physically searched and, if it is all clear, loaded back up with a life vest, closed and resealed.
Q. Is there a standard life vest pouch that all airlines use or do airlines want their own branding.
A. We’ve never been asked to brand the pouches themselves, but we can customise the labels. Basically, there are three main sizes of pouch that cover 95% of all the different life vests that are out in the field. There’s a cylindrical type which is the smallest size, there’s a large rectangular flat shape which is predominantly used in the US market, and there’s a medium size in between those. So, instead of having many different pouch designs tailored for individual life vests we selected three sizes and that covers the large range of life vests that are out there.
What we customise most of the time is the way they are fixed to the seat. So, that could be hook and loop tape or it could be straps with eyelets, things like that.
Q. What can you tell me about the marketplace you’re operating in?
A. We have around 10% of the entire global market but a larger share than that amongst the larger carriers in Europe. We’re still the market leaders in this specialised security product area.
Originally we held that position because we were the only one that was concentrating on the security aspect, the security features. There are many cut and sew shops that can produce just a simple pouch, a basic bag to go under the economy seat, but that’s where the problem started and they certainly wouldn’t pass any security test today.
It’s only in recent years that we have seen any competitive products out there from a security viewpoint, but I would say that we’re still the market leader because the new requirements are so security-focused and we were in the security market even before 9/11. To be honest, I don’t think anyone has really caught up with us yet.
Q. Is Research & Development carried out in-house at Servecorp?
A. What drives our product development really are the continually evolving security requirements. So, for instance, when we first started development in 2004, the smallest item we had to prevent from being inserted into the pouch was about the size of a cigarette packet. Today, we’re down to literally a pen-sized object. So you can imagine, over time, the closure has to be redesigned to prevent these ever smaller types of items being inserted. That trend is likely to continue and we will have to keep evolving. But we haven’t failed yet!
Q. What are the key benefits of Servecorp’s life vest pouches?
A. Our key message is the added value benefit that our security awareness brings to an airline. We’re not cheap and cheerful, and we don’t pretend to be. Cheap and cheerful doesn’t give you the reliable security aspect. So, what we would promote on a pitch to an airline is the return on their investment because they’re significantly reducing their security search operation time on a daily basis at the same time as maintaining security compliance.
Another important aspect is the weight saving. We work to make our pouches as light as possible because that has an impact on fuel burn and any grams or ounces you can save on the design is going to save them money on aviation fuel over time.
Q. What sort of longevity do your life vest pouches have and can they be repaired?
A. The problem we have to deal with is that the pouches do get quite a lot of physical abuse when they’re in position under an economy seat. So, realistically, we would say they have a life of around three to five years.
Yes, we do offer a repair service, depending on the extent of the damage. That’s managed by Airbase Interiors, our sister company within Trenchard Aviation Group, under their EASA Part 145 maintenance approval.