It’s hard to believe today, but on the first airliners, seats were basically armchairs placed in the cabin with no restraints at all. But it didn’t take long for airlines to ealise that first the chairs themselves needed to be fixed in place and then that if the chairs weren’t going to move around the cabin any more, the people in them might unless they held on tight, making seatbelts a rather good idea!
airBaltic’s seatbelts are manufactured by US company AmSafe which is now the world’s largest supplier of pilot, crew and passenger restraints equipment to the aviation industry. Commercial aviation seatbelts trace their real birth to 1955 when AmSafe’s predecessor, Cummings & Sanders, was granted the first patent for metal to-metal safety buckles. The design was an ingenious classic and remains largely the same to this day thanks to its ease of operation, resistance to jamming and reliability. Imagine how many times your seat buckle is opened and closed each year and then consider that if the seatbelt isn’t working properly, the seat simply cannot be used, costing the airline lots of money.
The current industry standard for the strength of passenger lap belts is 16g – that is 16 times the force of gravity – a huge figure when you consider that Formula 1 pilots will experience a maximum of around 5g and that Apollo 16 astronauts endured forces of just over 7g when they re-entered the earth’s atmosphere! The nylon webbing used to make the actual belt portion is just as important as the buckle. The minimum rated strength of an airBaltic lap belt is 1,500 kilos – about the weight of the latest Ford Mondeo car. Lap belts are self-tensioning and self-blocking giving the possibility to lean forward if required during the flight. Though the classic seatbelt continues, new innovations are also entering the market. The first seatbelt airbags – similar to the airbags in your car steering wheel – were introduced as early as 2001 and are gradually spreading through the aviation industry. Advances in the materials industry means the all-important webbing fabric that makes up the actual belt can now be unbelievably strong.
If further proof of the airline seatbelt’s iconic status is needed look no further than the SkyBelts company which actually sells authentic belts and buckles for use not on seats but to keep your jeans from falling down. They even sell a model covered in rhinestones – though wearing one of their belts while you take a flight might prove confusing for both you an the cabin crew!