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Like Veins Delivering Lifeblood

Although widely thought of to be statistically the safest way to travel, many people still suffer from a fear of flying. But when passengers think of the inherent dangers of air transport, they probably think about obvious potential causes of disaster, such as the failure of the engines, the avionics, or the airframe structure itself.

Largely invisible elements, such as all the wiring that is used in commercial aircraft, will almost certainly be overlooked – but wiring issues have been attributed as the cause of a handful of fatal air accidents over the years.

Once thought of as a relatively minor safety concern, the manufacture and maintenance of wiring harnesses and connectors, which enmesh the internal structure of an aircraft like veins delivering lifeblood, is now of the utmost importance.

As automated systems and new technologies are integrated into today’s aircraft, the amount of wiring required has increased dramatically. Airbus’ A380, for instance, carries an amazing 530km of wiring.

The new materials and technologies should improve the safety of wiring within modern aircraft and significantly reduce incidents and crashes. “The push for smaller size, lower weight, and higher capacity will never change,” explains Matt Hansen, director of commercial aircraft group at EMTEQ. “Just the same, speed of delivery, quality of service and low cost production are staples in what has been a relatively mature market.”

Chris Moody, president of Cherokee Nation Industries, says of the current state of the wiring harnesses sector: “The market for wire harnesses has become more of a global market place, with competition coming from all over the world. We are moving away from the build-to-print era and into a build-to-concept environment. Technology has had a major role in this evolution, motivating suppliers to become more technical.”

The aviation industry has rightfully elevated the level of attention that wiring in any aircraft deserves. In order to avert any disasters, maintenance must be flawless. Indeed, the issue of wiring installation and integrity was highlighted earlier this month when Japan's All Nippon Airways (ANA) discovered defective wiring in three of its 787 Dreamliners.

The faulty wiring was first found on an aircraft at Tokyo's Haneda airport before a scheduled flight to Frankfurt. The wiring was eventually repaired and the departure to Germany went ahead, but according to ANA, had the defective wiring not been detected it could have caused a fire-extinguishing system for the engine to malfunction.
 
For more on the vital but sometimes overlooked issue of wiring, see the August-September issue of Aircraft Technology Engineering & Maintenance, coming soon.

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