Scott Campbell: “fire is my business”
Safran Cabin Director of flammability engineering and Safran Group technical fellow Scott Campbell is not only the group’s fire prevention specialist, but also an internationally acknowledged authority in his field. More than just expertise, flammability has become his lifelong involvement. He tells us how, and why.
How come you chose aeronautics?
It happened by chance, actually. Having graduated as a chemical engineer from California State University of Long Beach and West Coast University, the natural path would have been to start working in the petroleum industry. However, at that time, oil was experiencing a slump and perspectives were limited. Then a friend of mine who worked in aerospace told me there were great opportunities in that field. I got a job with McDonnell-Douglas, then Boeing, before joining C&D Zodiac in 1999. There I became Director of flammability engineering, which I now am with Safran Cabin.
How did you become an expert?
In the beginning, I worked on materials, processes and fire safety. Gradually, I focused more and more on the latter. Specialization became inevitable: on one hand, regulations were becoming more and more stringent; on the other hand, R&D was making impressive breakthroughs.
Why did you chose to become one?
You don’t actually chose: flammability is such a very complex and fast-moving domain, that you have to be 100% focused on it, all the time. So, I guess that becoming an expert was quite a natural, logical process.
What are the main issues with flammability?
They are numerous. First, you have the technical issues: how can one prevent fire? And, if a fire happens, how can one manage so that it happens as late as possible, and spreads as slowly as possible? Compared to other transportation devices, a commercial plane piles up risks: it carries huge quantities of kerosene, which is highly flammable, it also carries many passengers with not-so-many exits to evacuate them, and of course you just can’t stop a plane by the roadside, you have to land it. All this means flammability is absolutely crucial: retarding a fire by 5 minutes simply means saving lives. Saving lives is the key. But there is more: you also have to take into account the regulatory aspect, and of course the economics.
Could you tell us more about regulations and economics?
As you know, planes and all their fittings must be certified. This means that fire safety is not only a technical issue, but also a regulatory one. A big change occurred the 190’s : regulations became very stringent before the technology to comply with them was fully mature. So, actually, regulation accelerated innovation. This means that certification authorities and the industry must work together, which they do. Personally, I have been working with the Federal Aviation Administration for years, for instance with the International Aircraft Materials Fire Test Working Group. I also co‐chaired the Flammability Standardization Task Group (FSTG). Economics, then: once you’ve set a technical target, the issue is to reach it as cost-effectively as possible. There is no point in achieving good results at a price no one can afford.
This role and your responsibilities mean you always have to keep up to date. How do you manage ?
When you work in that field, you always are meeting people, exchanging ideas, envisioning solutions, working on regulations, and sometimes issues that do not exist yet, but might arise one day. So, it is a sort of virtuous circle: you learn, you teach, you share your knowledge and your questions. All the time. And always keeping in mind that the aim is to save lives.
Is this sharing limited to America?
Of course not! It is neither limited to America, nor to plane interiors: I have almost daily exchanges with my Safran colleagues all around the world, on subjects that range from cabins to cargo to fuselage and fuselage insulation A plane is made of many parts, but it must also be taken as a whole.
Does your expertise reflect in your personal life?
Well… My boys used to be boy-scouts, and their friends thought I had the best job in the world, making fires all the time! Of course, that’s a bit far from the truth. Then, apart from photography, my other passion is water: I love and whitewater rafting. Water versus fire: there might be a pattern there…