Chris Skurat, VisionSafe’s Director of Sales for the company’s Business Aviation sector, how the discusses how the Emergency Vision Assurance System provides emergency backup allowing the pilot to see, and fly the aircraft to a safe landing, when smoke evacuation procedures are not sufficient. The topics covered include:
Chris joined VisionSafe in October 2019, serving as the Director of Sales for OEM Part 135 & 91 Aircraft. In this role, Chris will be the direct liaison with all Business Aviation OEMs to support their part 135 & 91 customers in their safety needs, specific to VisionSafe’s EVAS solution. This will include product training, customer support & new business development. In addition, Chris will work closely with aviation service providers including MROs and aircraft sales professionals to promote EVAS as an essential safety product for their client’s aircraft.
Prior to joining VisionSafe Chris was the Director of Sales & Customer Service at AMSTAT for 24 years. During his tenure at AMSTAT, Chris promoted the use of AMSTAT’s services and the industry’s leading global business aviation market intelligence source.
Chris has been an active member of the business aviation community, serving on various committees, including the National Aircraft Finance Association (NAFA), the Education Committee for International Aircraft Dealers Association (IADA), and as member of the HAI Finance and Leasing Committee.
Chris received his BA in Economics with a concentration in Accounting & Statistics from Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ. He is also in the process of training for his private pilot’s license.
Tony Kioussis (00:05):
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Tony Kioussis (00:33):
Welcome to another Asset Insight podcast covering the aircraft ownership life cycle. I am Tony Kioussis, President of Asset Insight and your host.
Tony Kioussis (00:42):
Smoke in the aircraft cabin can quickly turn into a serious safety issue. While not a common occurrence considering the number of annual operations, more than 1,000 in flight smoke events are reported each year in the U.S. alone. When cabin smoke evacuation procedures are not sufficient, the Emergency Vision Assurance System, or EVAS, created by Vision Safe Corporation provides emergency backup allowing the pilot to see and fly the aircraft to a safe landing.
Tony Kioussis (01:13):
We thought it would be useful to further explore the safety tool, so we asked Chris Skurat, Vision Safe’s Director of Sales, for the company’s business aviation sector to join us for a better understanding of the product’s safety improvement capabilities. Thank you for agreeing to participate in one of our educational podcasts, Chris.
Chris Skurat (01:32):
Well, thank you very much for the invitation, Tony. This is an optimal opportunity to spend some time with you personally, my industry colleague and friend, as well as to really educate the industry on what we consider a very dangerous and sometimes overlooked event. After spending many years prior, as you might know, in the business aviation market intelligence space, and now being intimately involved in aviation safety, it’s been fulfilling for sure as safety truly is one of the backbones of our industry and without a doubt, much more of an initiative under the microscope, even in the last two years, for sure.
Tony Kioussis (02:09):
Let’s start off with some basic information. For those not familiar with this technology, what exactly is EVAS and why should it be considered a critical safety initiative?
Chris Skurat (02:20):
EVAS is an acronym for the Emergency Vision Assurance System, and the concept for EVAS is to create what is a clear space or pocket of air between the pilot and their instrument panel, as well as the windshield. The need for this clear space of air is vital during a blinding cockpit smoke emergency, where a pilot truly cannot see their hand two inches in front of their face, if you can imagine that.
Chris Skurat (02:46):
So let’s imagine a situation where an aircraft is flying at 40,000 feet and within seconds the cockpit fills with black smoke. The first procedure after your initial shock and panic about what’s going on is to put on your smoke goggles and oxygen masks. That’s item number one. So now you can safely breathe and your eyes are protected from any toxic smokes or gases. The problem now is you cannot see your instruments, even though they may be illuminated, and you for sure can’t see your flight path as well.
Chris Skurat (03:18):
So if your aircraft is EVAS equipped, you are fortunate to have a solution where you’re able to safely fly then land the aircraft, and that’s the important key. So how does this actually happen? The actual EVAS unit, which is approximately the size of a Jeppesen manual, sits next to both pilots. They open the EVAS box, and I say a box as most think of EVAS as simply a box, as they never truly see the system that’s inside the box and in action.
Chris Skurat (03:49):
And inside the EVAS unit or a box, they have the cockpit specific sized inflatable visibility unit, which is triggered on, or as we call it deployed, when removed from the unit and it uses a lanyard that automatically starts a battery that powers the blower. Now EVAS has an independent power source from the aircraft using heavy duty alkaline battery packs, so the blower doesn’t rely on the aircraft power, it again uses this heavy duty independent source of power.
Chris Skurat (04:20):
So the blower pulls this smoke concentrated air, that thick black smoke I was mentioning before, from the cockpit and forces it through a particulate filter. This actually scrubs and cleans the air down to what is 0.3 microns, it’s technically breathable, clean, clear air, and it fills this transparent, we call it an IVU, that’s the Inflatable Visibility Unit, which is made of a flame retardant Teflon and nylon ripstop. So within 30 to 45 seconds of arming and deploying EVAS, the Inflatable Visibility Unit is fully inflated, and the pilot essentially now has complete control of their aircraft again.
Tony Kioussis (05:05):
Not to play devil’s advocate, but can’t a smoke hood or a heads up display be used instead of EVAS during a smoke event to help view instruments and see outside of the cockpit?
Chris Skurat (05:19):
That’s a great question, Tony, and often, very, very often a misconception. The purpose of a smoke hood is to protect passengers and non-flying crew from the effects of smoke insulation, really that’s it. In a pressurized aircraft, a flying crew member would wear an oxygen mask. In a non-pressurized aircraft, mainly smaller piston aircraft, you may see a pilot that’ll opt to where a smoke hood, but that is only really because they have the luxury being able to open a window at a low altitude and get rid of some of the smoke and have some visibility through that smoke hood. That’s not the case with a pressurized aircraft.
Chris Skurat (05:57):
In regards to the heads up display during a smoke emergency, this goes back to my previous comment of where I mentioned you’re not being able to see your hand in front of your face. The heads up display typically sits one to two feet from the pilot, essentially from their eyesight, and the purpose of a heads up display really is to make it easy to see the flight details displayed on the screen and to remain “heads up and eyes out” while flying.
Chris Skurat (06:23):
In black smoke where a pilot can’t see their hand, they will surely not be able to see their HUD just as they can’t see their instruments, which are illuminated right in front of them. So really neither a smoke hood or a HUD should ever be considered a solution for an emergency cockpit smoke event, as they do not give you the ability to see your instruments and your flight path.
Tony Kioussis (06:45):
And that makes sense. I imagine there’s a long list of answers to this, but what are some of the common, or more common, situations that could cause blinding smoke to enter the cockpit?
Chris Skurat (06:57):
This is a question that truly has kept me awake on nights before I have flown as there are many. When you’re at 40,000 feet, you can’t just pull over like you can in a car, right? So the most common scenarios you might consider are electrical fires or fires that are oil related. Naturally, the cockpit is filled with wires and it operates under extreme situations, so a malfunction is always possible regardless of the age of the aircraft. Even something in the galley that begins to burn can quickly carry into the cockpit.
Chris Skurat (07:32):
Next, and just as unpredictable, is smoke and fumes caused by an oil source. There are many moving parts in the aircraft engine and system, a small oil seal leak can within seconds fill the entire cockpit and cabin with a wall of smoke because in most aircraft, the air travels within the bleed air system, which vents right into the aircraft, specifically the cockpit. What is sometimes underestimated is a threat from lithium-ion power devices and how dangerous these events are. They happen suddenly and last for an extended period of time, and that’s really due to the nature of thermal runaway and how it causes a chain reaction from one battery cell to the next.
Chris Skurat (08:12):
These events are blinding, they’re very toxic in nature, and when you consider that each crew passenger has three to six lithium power devices, and I’m talking about your cell phone, your laptop, or your battery charging port, even your watch and your vape, let’s say. And there are on average of three aircraft smoke events reported to the FAA daily, that is just in the U.S. That number started to rise significantly in 2015, as the lithium ion battery became the predominant power source. It’s a scary trend to watch, Tony.
Tony Kioussis (08:48):
There appears to be a perception by some people that EVAS is most needed on long range aircraft, specifically those that are flying over water or where they are unable to land for an extended period of time. Is this true, or is there a case to be made for all aircraft operators to consider EVAS?
Chris Skurat (09:10):
I ask this question to almost every pilot I speak with. In most cases, I hear a pilot feels most vulnerable when flying over water for extended period of time, mainly because they can’t land if a situation happened. U.S. mainland to Hawaii is the first place that always comes to mind when I think of this. In these situations, having EVAS on those aircraft gives both pilots the ability to alternate using EVAS to control the aircraft. Remember that each pilot is equipped with their own EVAS unit, each unit has a battery source that is FAA rated to last for two and a half hours, but they’ll typically run anywhere and last anywhere from three to four hours.
Chris Skurat (09:53):
So if used efficiently, the pilots can actually alternate using each unit to control the aircraft giving them five to six or even more hours of battery time in EVAS. So in these situations, we are talking about large, of course, long-range business jets. However, when you consider that most pressurized aircraft really fly between 30,000, 40,000 feet, of course, some below that you have to consider the time it would take to get any aircraft on the ground safely during one of these emergencies, if you’re up that high.
Chris Skurat (10:27):
We actually recently interviewed a U.S. Marine pilot. He was flying a special mission large turboprop over hostile territory in Afghanistan back in 2019. He was flying at close to 20,000 feet. He was 10 minutes from the airfield. He experienced a blinding smoke event that engulfed him within five to ten seconds. He couldn’t see his copilot and the smoke was so dense that his copilot couldn’t find the oxygen mic switch, so they weren’t even able to communicate with each other.
Chris Skurat (11:00):
Without telling this story in full, and you can actually find it on our website, it’s riveting and scary at the same time, but his testament for how he got the aircraft safely on the ground was luck. That’s the only word he uses and uses it repeatedly. So really every aircraft, regardless of age, size, or mission, really is susceptible to a cockpit smoke event.
Tony Kioussis (11:22):
Two questions come to mind that are probably related, first is EVAS available through an STC or is it considered loose equipment? And second, what is the FAA’s position, if any, on EVAS?
Chris Skurat (11:34):
For the most part, EVAS is equipped primarily as an STC and offered as a safety option by most business aircraft manufacturers. One exception to that is the Gulfstream G650, which actually has made EVAS standard equipment on that particular aircraft. Now there are a few aircraft or EVAS’s available as loose equipment only, however, the STC is definitely the highly preferred installation. As far as the FAA, the FAA has always been an advocate of EVAS as a critical safety option. Obviously, we work with them for each STC and they have EVAS equipment on some of their business jet fleet as well.
Chris Skurat (12:17):
Over the years, the FAA has published various advisory circulars, where they highly recommend a “smoke displacement system” to preserve the pilot’s ability to fly during a cockpit smoke event. However, and this is very interesting, just last month, the FAA recognized EVAS as a solution on their fire safety website. If you go on their website, they have a topic that’s called Mitigation Strategy Flight Deck Smoke Protection, and they issue this statement, and I quote, “An Emergency Vision Assurance System (EVAS) can be used to assist in clearly viewing the essential instrumentation and an unobstructed view out of the windshield in a case of an emergency.” It is very rare for the FAA to mention a product by name, but EVAS truly is the only solution during this potentially catastrophic emergency.
Chris Skurat (13:08):
I have a question for you if you don’t mind, because obviously I know what you do in evaluating aircraft values based on their maintenance cycles, and based on my previous history, I look at the business jet market today, I mean, what’s happened specifically over the last year and a half, going on two years. Very low pre-owned aircraft inventory, plenty of first time buyers, but believe the average aircraft owner keeps an aircraft right now for maybe five years tops. EVAS separately speaking comes with a 10 year warranty. Do you see a product like EVAS adding to the value of the aircraft in this current market and environment?
Tony Kioussis (13:49):
The answer is yes. EVAS provides value to the aircraft. The question I think that would more interest people is how much value, and the answer to that is it depends. While it provides a value to an aircraft, it also is based on how much of the fleet actually has or is EVAS equipped. So if you have of a particular make/model, if anything over 50% of that fleet is equipped with EVAS and your aircraft is not, your aircraft will actually suffer a deduct for not having EVAS on the airplane.
Tony Kioussis (14:27):
On the other hand, how much is it worth to put EVAS on the airplane? That depends on a lot of things, including the aircraft’s age, how many aircraft are available for sale, et cetera. It could be a dollar-for-dollar addition for having EVAS on the airplane. Could be. On the other hand, the chances of that are not extraordinary. However, there will be a value for EVAS on the actual value to the aircraft from an appraisal standpoint.
Chris Skurat (14:56):
I’ve been trying to determine, again, with the state of the market clients and companies that are really buying and selling aircraft at a pace like we’ve never seen before the benefits to them to potentially even add EVAS as they’re preparing to sell an airplane within one to two years from an aftermarket standpoint.
Tony Kioussis (15:16):
This is such an important safety issue, and this is an opinion on my part, but this is such an important safety issue that I just think it would be silly to add it at the time you’re getting ready to sell the aircraft. If it’s not on the aircraft when you buy it, I think you’d want to put it on the aircraft right away, but that obviously is up to the individual buyer. There are a lot of first time buyers coming into the marketplace, and one of the reasons for our podcast is to help brief people on exactly what’s available to them and what they ought to be considering. And safety is always a big issue, whether you’re a first time buyer or repeat buyer, and I think something as inexpensive as EVAS to bring into the safety realm of your aircraft, it becomes something of a no brainer.
Chris Skurat (16:00):
It is something we try to stress to not just new aircraft buyers, but those that maybe purchase an aircraft that was not EVAS equipped. It’s like an insurance policy, right? Not to say that a smoke emergency is uncommon, as you can see by the numbers. It happens often enough to make it a legitimate threat. I always make the comparison when I speak with folks, which is when was the last time you had your airbag go off in your car? And when I ask that in a large room, I typically don’t get many hands that go up, but everybody there is sure happy they have it, right? For when that situation comes. Smoke in the cockpit, because we’re hearing about it much more often, is starting to become something that is serious and something that just like you said, Tony, if it didn’t come equipped, something for sure that should be considered as a safety option considering the cost.
Tony Kioussis (16:53):
I really want to thank you, Chris, for some very useful information. Is there anything else you want people to know about Vision Safe’s services within the business aviation market?
Chris Skurat (17:03):
Our goal, it’s really just to continue to enhance aviation safety. We watch and evaluate growing threats in our industry, and that’s business aviation, as well as the commercial markets, cargo markets. Technology is constantly changing, so therefore, we need to be aware of new dangers that this ever changing technology can cause. EVAS has been a steady and reliable solution as it is for over 30 years with some minor tweaks and changes, however, we are dedicated to continue to design and create new solutions to maintain business aviation as the safest means of air transportation available.
Tony Kioussis (17:42):
This has been another Asset Insight podcast covering the aircraft ownership life cycle. Please visit our ever growing podcast library at AssetInsightpodcast.com, and select from any number of topics discussed with business aviation industry experts. This is Tony Kioussis, and as always, thank you for listening.
VisionSafe Corporation is the inventor, manufacturer and distributor of EVAS (Emergency Vision Assurance System). EVAS is the only FAA-certified cockpit smoke displacement system available within the aviation industry. EVAS provides a clear space of air through which the pilot can view their flight instruments and through the windshield to help them safety land their aircraft in the event of a cockpit smoke emergency. With over 8,000 EVAS units installed worldwide, VisionSafe takes pride in making safety a #1 priority within the aviation industry.
Corporate headquarters are in Honolulu, Hawaii with offices in Teterboro, NJ. For details about EVAS Systems, visit www.visionsafe.com or contact:
Director of Sales, Business Aviation;
cell: +1 (732) 616-8718.
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