What is the most important part of an aircraft - wings, engine, pilot? Arguably - and somewhat ironically - there is a strong case for saying it is the part that comes in contact with the ground.
Important then that just as with a car, the rubber on your wheels should be of the highest quality.
Airlines with hundreds of lives at risk every time a plane takes off or lands cannot afford to take a chance on second rate tyres - even with today’s cost pressures.
Based in Birmingham, Dunlop Aircraft Tyres specialises - as its name suggests - in the supply of aircraft tyres.
From design thorough to delivery, it uses the most sophisticated precision manufacturing and retreading techniques available.
The company, which will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2010, focuses solely on meeting the needs of the aviation industry.
Its high profile customers include major international airlines, aircraft constructors, wheel and brake manufacturers and maintenance facilities throughout the world.
With more than 500 approvals, the firm is capable of supplying tyres for over 300 different types of aircraft in the civil and military aviation market.
The breadth of the aircraft served ranges from the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter variant through to the Avro Lancaster bomber of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, while in the civil sector manufacturers such as Airbus and Boeing together with airlines including British Airways and Lufthansa are customers.
The Birmingham factory employs just over 300 people and the facility produces around 80,000 new tyres every year, in addition to carrying out around 30,000 retreads.
DAT chairman Ian Edmondson said: “Most people are unaware of exactly how many different types of aircraft tyres there are.
“We work with some of the most high profile airlines and air forces in the world and each has different demands so it is up to us to make sure we get their specifications correct.”
A tour of the firm’s manufacturing facilities provides a valuable insight into exactly the type of work that is carried out.
The construction of a modern aircraft tyre is a fascinating process. The tyre is a composite structure comprising three basic materials: rubber, nylon cord and steel. The components are bonded together by vulcanisation.
Aircraft tyres fall into two distinct technologies - bias (also known as cross ply) and radial. Bias and radial tyres are significantly different but are designed for specific applications.
The bias ply tyre consists of casing plies running diagonally at approximate right angles to one another. The number of plies and the angles at which they are laid dictate strength and load capacity. Bias tyres are currently the most popular tyres fitted to the world’s fleet.
Radial aircraft tyres differ to bias ones in that the plies all run radially from bead to bead at approximately 90° to the centre-line of the tyre.
Radial tyres can offer low weight but offer fewer opportunities for retreading.
The basic strength of the tyre is provided by the casing plies, while hard wearing treads are added to cope with all conditions which could be encountered on a runway.
The company serves all sectors of the aviation market.
Regional jet and turboprop aircraft are popular with airlines operating short haul, high frequency services, while narrow bodied and wide bodied jets form the bedrock of the world aircraft fleet.
Narrow body jets are amongst the most flexible of aircraft and are favoured by the low cost carriers for their economy, ease of maintenance, short turnaround time and attractive economics for high frequency and high demand routes.
The company is certified on the most popular narrow body aircraft such as the Boeing 737 and certain versions of the Airbus A320.
The class, dominated by the A320 and the 737, is the worlds’ most popular class of airliner. Over 6,500 are in active service and many of these could be fitted with Dunlop bias or Dunlop radial tyres.
Wide body aircraft are deployed on the longest and often most profitable routes. DAT have tyres certified for the Boeing 767, 757 and 747 and is developing tyres for other wide body aircraft.