Cameron Balloons SB 25 Lindstrand Titanium Cylinders
Cameron Balloons Limited have issued a Service Bulletin SB25 advising owners of Russian-built titanium cylinders that they should be removed from service. Please be fully aware that this Service Bulletin is ‘Highly Recommended’, not ‘Mandatory’, so the note sent from Cameron Balloons stating ‘This bulletin withdraws the Lindstrand T30 titanium fuel cylinder from service’ is not really politically accurate. If you own Russian built Titanium cylinders then you can decide if you wish to continue using them or not. You can, should you choose, continue to use them. Cameron Balloons cannot issue an EASA Mandatory statement so what they are actually saying is that it is ‘Highly Recommended’ that they are removed from service. It is categorically not Mandatory to remove them from service! If EASAland decide that this ought to be Mandatory then it will become an EASA Airworthiness Directive but Cameron Balloons cannot issue something that is Mandatory so, at the moment, it is not. In the future, if an EASA AD is not issued, then if Cameron Balloons Ltd have safety concerns they could include it in an Inspection Schedule. At present this remains ‘Highly Recommended’ and not ‘Mandatory’ so you do not have to remove them from service.
What the current state of affairs is that Cameron Balloons, who are responsible for the upkeep of airworthiness stuff for Lindstrand Balloons Ltd, is that they can find no evidence that the fatigue life of the cylinders, 1000 fuelling cycles, has ever been assessed and that they, understandably, think that many of these cylinders may have exceeded that criteria. Put sensibly, this means that, in the field, those cylinders that ‘may have exceeded the criteria’ have not failed resulting an uncontrolled release of propane’. If you have an affected Lindstrand titanium cylinder then, if it has exceeded the 1000 cycle mark, then perhaps you ought to think about retiring it. This is your choice. It is categorically not ‘Mandatory’. Most private balloons do between ten and thirty hours a year. At that rate, not assuming that the cylinders that ‘may’ have exceeded 1000 refills have not developed any faults, then your cylinder ought to be good for a 1000 refills or, put another way, at least a minimum of 30 years. We have looked at, inspected and proof pressure tested, well in excess of 35 LBL titanium cylinders and found no faults or indications of failure. Lindstrand Balloons Ltd, a couple of years back, did take such ‘unapproved’ cylinders and re-test them including X-raying which then ‘certified’ them. We have no issue with that. If you have a Lindstrand titanium cylinder that did not get certified under the scheme then you ought to have a bit of a think. Cameron Balloons did recall all their early Titanium cylinders and re-proofed them so nothing new there. See Cameron Balloons SB8, now closed.
Reading the Service Bulletin 25 we would say it is, at best, poorly written and, at worst, a bit of a heads up that Cameron Balloons Limited do not wish to take responsibility for something that protocol and history would indicate is not quite up to par, which is fair enough. To this end we would re-iterate that the Cameron SB25 is ‘Highly Recommended’ and their statement that ‘For this reason Cameron Balloons has issued Service Bulletin 25 withdrawing these cylinders from service. This bulletin requires immediate action’ is not the wording they should have used and, as it is ‘Highly Recommended’, nor is it accurate. They cannot withdraw it from service under a Service Bulletin as it stands. They can only advise that it is ‘Highly Recommended’ that it is removed from service.
For those that own the affected cylinders we would say that unless you think they have gone over 1000 refills then continue to use them. For those that think they may have gone over the 1000 refills then either get them proof pressure tested or, if they were done recently, then perhaps go for another test in five years. There is currently no evidence to suggest that they will fail but equally it would appear that they have never been subjected to the 1000 cycle test. They were made by a company in Russia that was part of their Space Programme and imported directly from that company. They were supplied to both Cameron Balloons and Lindstrand Balloons under various names such as Aerocology and Flite Cylinders.
Personally speaking I have never been a fan of titanium. I grant you it is very strong and, if treated properly, quite nice stuff, I have some in my leg, however it can be pretty unstable and is prone to not getting on with other metals so should be treated with respect. In a fire it will burn. Despite this I, personally, would fly with titanium cylinders whoever manufactured them. This Service Bulletin is not Mandatory so if you have them and wish to continue to use them, you can. For inspectors, if they pass the requirements for inspection then they will remain airworthy but, it is at the discretion of the inspector and the owner. Should you need any further advice, or need to vent your anger, please give us a call. Please be aware that it may, in time, like the CBL SB 23.0 LBL valve stems (which hasn’t yet) become an EASA Airworthiness Directive or get included in the Cameron Inspection Schedule (which they haven’t…..yet).