Air Safety Art International highlights diversity of city’s businesses

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When people think of local Blaine businesses, places like the Semiahmoo Resort or Peace Arch City Café likely come to mind. What many residents might not know is that tucked between the historic buildings on Peace Portal Drive is an unassuming office that caters to clients from NASA to Taylor Swift.

Air Safety Art International (ASAI) is a family-run business operated by Larry Bruns and his grandson Brock Fisher. The duo design and print safety briefing cards for some of the world’s largest airlines. The company works on 250 to 300 projects per year, ultimately generating anywhere between 3,750 to 6,000 folded cards per year. With colored sketches of people aboard airplanes, the cards instruct passengers on flight safety procedures.

The idea began in the early 1970s from Bruns’ brother-in-law, Beau Altman, who was working as a scientist for McDonnell Douglas, an aerospace company that would later merge with Boeing. The job entailed 90-second test evacuations of 400-person aircrafts. The tests revealed that most passengers didn’t know how to vacate an airplane in an emergency and would stay seated in confusion. Altman and a co-worker pitched briefing cards with safety instructions to McDonnell Douglas, a concept that hadn’t previously existed.

When the company showed little interest, the pair left their jobs to create Interaction Research. Bruns was recruited to be a designer for the company, which quickly grew due to the increased numbers of people flying in the 1970s and airlines slowly recognizing the hazard of only instructing flight attendants on safety procedures. Air safety cards became a federal regulation during the mid-1970s, Fisher said.

“At its peak, in those days when Pan American World Airways was still around, we were printing one million cards per year,” Bruns said of the California-based company.

The company split up due to professional differences, forming the pillars of the air safety card industry today. Bruns relocated to Olympia in 1980 and worked in a converted home office before moving to Bellingham in 1994 to be closer to his grandson, Fisher.

The current company, ASAI, was founded in 2011 after a split from Safe Air Company, a previous business Fisher and Bruns had subcontracted with since 2006. Aside from a short stint in Bellingham, the business has been Blaine-based since its foundation.

“We are a very close family and Larry has always wanted me to be a part of the business so I could take it over and further what he loved doing,” Fisher said.

Currently, the largest clients for the business are Dassault Falcon Jet in Little Rock, Arkansas, which carries the company’s cards, and a Saudi Arabian oil company. Past clients have included pop music star Taylor Swift, who has a private jet, the president of Mexico, who flies on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner and NASA’s SOFIA project, a Boeing aircraft that carries a powerful telescope.

The job means keeping up with safety regulations to keep clients informed about what is mandatory for the safety cards, Fisher said, something that can change from year to year.

“Not only do we have to know the ins and outs of a book that’s this thick by the FAA,” Fisher said, holding a lengthy manual, “but we have to do the best we can to learn an entire other country’s safety code for their aircraft and how their process works.”

The company most often deals with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations because of the high number of jets flying through or out of the U.S. The company services 15 to 20 countries, including France, Brazil and India.

Regulations also differ between commercial and private aircrafts, with private aircrafts having stricter regulations because passengers are responsible for their own safety with no flight attendants on board. The regulations on what a brace position looks like, for example, will vary between the U.S. and Canada, Fisher said. Requirements can also include how to use a fire extinguisher, exiting the aircraft and how to deploy the raft.

It takes about 16 hours to create a new card design from scratch, Fisher said. Although time consuming at first, these clean-slate projects can be financial investments if other companies with the same aircraft also use the card.

“You’re playing the long game,” Fisher said. “Sometimes you’re taking a hit on the amount of hours you spend, just in the hope that 50 other people that year get to you and say that they want to order cards.”

But this is rarely needed, since 95 percent of the time there is already a base design on file that, with a few changes to the aircraft’s layout or equipment, can be updated in Adobe Creative Suite. For example, the company has 15 different fire extinguisher designs on their computers.

Designs change with styles of the era, from forgoing shoulder pads on clothing and mullet haircuts to welcoming current trends such as simpler, cleaner designs.

The oldest cards are dated by pen drawings once made with a printing press. Designs slowly evolved to be used on old computer rendering programs and then eventually to the current designs created with Adobe Creative Suite.

People are the only hand drawings left on the cards. These are used both as a way to make the people stand out and also to make them look more realistic. These drawings are traced from photos Fisher and Bruns take in the office, where they have an entire wardrobe and 20 life vests on hand. The people on the international air safety cards are often Fisher and Bruns, or friends and family and the occasional stranger. This helps the designers better understand the physical limits of the human body for certain safety positions, something computer renderings lack.

“We’re on the hook. If I show you how to do this wrong and you get hurt, it could come back to me,” Fisher said. “We have to make sure we do our due diligence in confirming the safe way of doing things, along with what’s a regulation.”

The company only has four to five business competitors, Fisher said. It stands out from its competitors with detailed customer service, Fisher said. The company caters to its clients’ time zones, whether that’s the East Coast or halfway across the world.

“It’s just fascinating to me the number of international companies we have in this little town of ours,” said Blaine mayor Bonnie Onyon, who recently discovered ASAI after wandering into their office following a luncheon next door. “I’m just so proud of our little town and how cosmopolitan we seem to be for a little town of 5,000 people. We have a lot going on.”

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