12819 Harmon Road, Suite 575
Fort Worth 76177
Though one’s chances of dying in a plane crash are one in 11 million, The Travel Channel tells us 40 percent of airline passengers are afraid of flying.
People might be less afraid if they knew Andrew Feghali. His Aeroblaze Laboratory’s job is to make sure the interior materials in the planes meet safety regulations in case of fire.
There are only a handful of aerospace flammability testing labs nationwide, and Feghali, Aeroblaze CEO and lab manager, says his company offers something no one else does. “We have the fastest turnaround time,” he said. “We have a two-day turnaround. Typically, you’ll see three to five days or longer.” The company, located in far north Fort Worth, also offers competitive pricing and a completely online system from request to data delivery.
“We focus on three things,” Feghali said. “The first is, obviously, cost. The second is turnaround time. The last is convenience.”
Feghali has dreamed of owning his own business since high school. After completing an MBA degree that included an entrepreneurship class with a business plan project, and submitting that project to the University of Texas at Arlington Business Plan Competition and winning, he knew he had just the thing.
“I’d been saving up since high school, really, to start a business,” he said. “Then in 2015 or 2016, I knew what I was going to spend that money on. I put most of my own money into it and then also took a bank loan for what I did not have.”
Feghali founded Aeroblaze after some experience with fire testing as an engineer with Parker Hannifin and an introduction to fire testing for aerospace interiors from an entrepreneurship classmate.
It was during that fall 2015 entrepreneurship class that he won the November 2015 Business Plan Competition. He quit his job the following April, joined TECH Fort Worth in January 2016, and Aeroblaze was officially open for business in November.
TECH Fort Worth “has been really helpful in terms of getting my company up and running,” Feghali said. “They provide mentors … and for me, having never opened a company before, it’s really helpful to have these mentors who can guide me through all the aspects of business that aren’t my strong suit.”
Although he says running his own business is not what he expected, and in some cases is more challenging than he would have thought, he enjoys being able to work with his wife, make his own decisions and see the results.
“I love working,” he said. “I know many people who don’t say that, but I’m doing something I really love and I do work hard and it’s nice that the reward I get from this is directly correlated from how hard I work.”
One thing he’s learned is the need to be flexible.
“I have plans, but what I’ve seen is it’s really my customers that determine what my plan is,” he said. “Customers approach me and say, ‘Hey, will you do this testing for us,’ and then that opens a new pathway for me to do something else.”
It’s not pointless to have a plan, but there has been a learning curve and process for both him and his wife as they moved into business ownership and Feghali switched from one focus to another within his chosen industry.
In the industry, there are two main focuses testing labs can take – interior material and engine or power plant testing.
At Parker Hannifin, the focus was on the power plant side though Feghali was exposed to fire testing during his work there, he said. He originally figured he would focus on the power plant side as well, but market research showed a need for interior materials testing nationally and internationally.
“The aircraft interior side is like a whole new world that I hadn’t been exposed to before so there’s a lot I had to learn early on,” he said. He’s still hoping to add the power plant side when the business is well established.
Aeroblaze offers five basic tests that cover almost every material in an airplane interior, as well as tests for seatbelts and cushions, cargo component materials, and wiring and cables.
As part of the focus on convenience, and in an effort to “bring more of the ‘internet age’ into testing,” Aeroblaze has gone paperless, providing clients with online portals for requesting tests, seeing test results and downloading reports.
Four tests, all but the seat cushion test, are done in a chamber where material samples are exposed to a 1,500-degree Bunsen burner flame for 12 seconds. Three measurements are taken: the burn length, the burn time after flame removal and the length of time anything dripping from the material stays aflame. The test is pass/fail. The material must have a burn length of fewer than 8 inches and a burn time after flame removal of 15 seconds or less.
The seat cushion test is “more fun with a bigger flame,” Feghali said. The cushion is put on a metal seat frame sitting on a scale, hit with an oil burner flame for two minutes and measured for weight loss and burn length. It also is pass/fail. No more than 10 percent of the weight can be lost and burn lengths must be 17 inches or less.
Beyond the five basic tests, Aeroblaze plans to add others and is able to provide specialty testing customers may request including flammability testing for flight attendants’ portable breathing equipment and engine seals testing.
Aeroblaze has multiple clients in the Dallas-Fort Worth area including Alliance-based GDC Technics, Dallas-based Robinson Aircraft Interiors and other smaller companies, but there also is an international market because of the small number of fire test labs worldwide.
“We’ve had customers from Turkey, Germany and the U.K. so far and we’re talking with customers all over, so they come from anywhere in the world,” Feghali said.
“We’ve been speaking with a lot of big companies here and they’re interested in using us, but in this industry, there’s a lot of certifications that labs have to get and we’re working on getting all those certifications, but we’re still missing a few,” he said. “They’ve expressed interest in us after we’re able to get those certifications.”
Aeroblaze has the fundamental ISO-17025 certification, the accreditation specifically for test laboratories issued by the International Organization for Standardization. Feghali is still acquiring two more certifications.
“The two we are missing are from Airbus and Boeing,” he said. “So, those two companies being the two biggest airplane manufacturers, they provide their own certifications to test labs and those are the two that we’re missing.”
Aeroblaze now offers 36-hour turnaround testing – the fastest in the industry, Feghali says – for manufacturers of materials such as leather, composite and foam. Competitors can take three or more days, he said.