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Keeping planes safe

Valencia company secures passenger safety

Posted: January 19, 2009 10:01 p.m.
Updated: January 20, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Technicians at HRD Aero Systems build, test and maintain the safety equipment used in private and public airliners.

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A Valencia business simulates disasters to train flight crews to respond to emergency flight situations and repair safety equipment such as the rafts that kept dozens of Airbus A320 passengers afloat last week on the Hudson River in New York.

Though pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger will long be praised for his successful ditch landing of the US Airways jetliner, the 155 passengers also have reliable safety equipment and other well-trained crew members to thank.

"The pilot did what he was supposed to do, and our job is to make sure the equipment works to keep (passengers) alive," said Brian Omahen, executive vice president of HRD Aero Systems on Avenue Stanford in Valencia.

Sullenberger safely landed the plane in the frigid river Thursday after colliding with a flock of birds. The collision shut down both engines less than two minutes after takeoff.

None of HRD Aero Systems' equipment was on the Airbus A320.

The company provides service to world-wide corporate and commercial airliners, including Delta and United airlines, Omahen said.

"A little bit of Valencia is in airliners around the world," Omahen said.

According to the Web site, the company prides itself on becoming the largest independently owned safety-equipment repair station in the world.

On Monday afternoon, several technicians carefully and skillfully packed inflatable emergency slides and rafts, referring to precise instructional manuals.

The technicians' work is significant and meticulous.

"On a scale from one to 10, about a 15 or maybe a 20," said Lee Smith, lead technician. "This is (the passengers') last chance. This is it, if the plane goes down and these things don't work, people die."

The company is also responsible for training more than 100 corporate jet crews in the last year.

The local lab features a real fuselage and cockpit complete with smoke, alert and safety features to create a simulation that gives crews a chance to train for nine different emergency situations including crash landings, smoke drills - and the emergency that currently feels most relevant - ditch landings.

Valencia resident Peter Rai is the director of the emergency crew-member training.

Seeing the successful landing on the Hudson River reinforced the importance of the company's education and training, he said.

"I saw the footage of the actual ditch," Rai said. "To me it's a relief to see that what we talk about here - what ‘should' happen, did happen. It was really nice to see that what did happen, could happen."

Carrie Curtis, of Santa Clarita, is a trainer for the simulated sessions.

As a flight attendant who has experienced real flight emergencies, she thought of the procedures she's had to initiate before.

"I could definitely sympathize with the people in that situation," she said of the Hudson River incident.
Rai said his job gave him a new respect for flight attendants because of the training they take.

In regards to the Hudson River ditch landing, Rai estimated the flight attendants had no more than three minutes to brace their passengers.

"Without the pilot, the plane may not have had a successful ditch, but without the flight attendants, the passengers maybe wouldn't have gotten out," Rai said. "Here we teach crew resource management where the entire crew works together."

The Airbus A320 that splashed down in the river Thursday was at a New Jersey salvage yard Monday, where company workers, federal investigators and New York City police guarded it.

President-elect Barack Obama said Monday he had spoken with the California pilot, who told him, "Me and my crew, we were just doing our job."

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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