Thursday, September 24, 2020

Here's why this entrepreneur getting nod to make aircraft seat covers is a big deal for Indian aviation industry


The dirty pictures bothered Vikram Handa. Every time an angry customer posted pictures of a torn or a stained aircraft seat, the Mumbai-based entrepreneur was concerned about customer safety.

Unlike aircraft engines and tyres that get their fair share of attention, aircraft seats are a neglected lot but a soiled seat is more than just an eyesore or an inconvenience, it is a safety hazard.

A fabric cover can only be washed up to 10 times but some domestic airlines are known to stretch it up to 30 times, compromising the fabric's fire retardant capacity.

If some international airlines were replacing seat covers every month or two, in India, a few carriers were using them for up to 10 months, industry insiders say. 

For Handa, this was a troubling trend as the seat is as much a regulated part of the aircraft as an engine. He took matters into his hand and after two years of doggedness, Handa's Epsilon Aerospace has got approval from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation  (DGCA) to make aircraft seat covers.

This is the first such certification for India. The approval is as per 21G of the Civil Aviation Requirement, or CAR, which lays down guidelines and procedures for the aviation sector. CAR 21G covers an aircraft cabin and its parts. Until recently, MRO (maintenance, repair and overhaul) players in India only had the CAR 145 approval that allowed them to repair a seat cover but not put a new one.

These covers are based on design certified by regulators in Europe (European Aviation Safety Agency), the US (Federal Aviation Administration) and the DGCA in India. Apart from seat covers, the approval also covers carpets, curtains and other parts that are used in the seats or in the cabin.

"Till now, Indian airlines had to go to overseas MRO players if they needed their seat covers to be changed and get the required certification. But now we can do it, saving them forex," says Handa, a first-generation entrepreneur who founded Epsilon Aerospace in 2015.

The company started off with services that were limited to the repair of seat covers. After initially working with business jets, Epsilon got commercial airlines, including IndiGo, SpiceJet and GoAir, as its customers.

Handa, who initially set up a unit in UAE for engine overhaul before moving to India, hopes that the approval will also pave the way for the company to get into the manufacturing of parts used in an aircraft cabin. These include plastic parts like the seat trays and armrests.

24/09/20 Prince Mathews Thomas/Mon

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