The FAA is allowing smaller airplane seats to become death traps

The FAA is refusing to release emergency evacuation test data that shows smaller airplane seats and added passengers on planes still allow 90-second evacuation

emergency evacuationEveryone knows that the American public is growing larger, especially below the belt. And, everyone knows that airplane personal space is shrinking. Adding those factors together would indicate that FAA certification emergency evacuation tests should be repeated as airlines add more seats to airplanes. Without FAA action to test the current shrinking airplane seating our planes will become death traps in cases of emergency landings.

Already, National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB) reports conducted as recently as October 2016, have shown the need for new evacuation tests. Their report showed that emergency evacuation takes far longer than the 90 seconds mandated by the FAA.

In a letter to the FAA Administrator on June 1, 2018, noted the increasing obesity of the America public.

From the May 2015 to the May 2017 report, the obesity rate among adults age 20 and over increased from 35.1% (2011-12) to 37.9% (2013-14). In the May 2017 report, the percentage of Americans from 2011-2014 that were normal weight, obese, and overweight/obese were 28.9%, 36.4%, and 69.5%, respectively. In the May 2015 report, these figures from 2009-2012 were 29.6%, 35.3%, 68.7%. Between reports, the percentage of obese Americans increased by 1.1%; the percentage of overweight/obese Americans increased by 0.8%; the percentage of normal weight Americans decreased by 0.7%.

According to documents released under a Freedom of Information request, “the last time the FAA did a full-scale emergency evacuation test of commonly-used models of planes was over 20 years ago. Since that time, there have been numerous airworthiness certifications of new aircraft.” It was only with good luck that the crippled plane didn’t become a death trap.

The DC Circuit Court sided with consumers and instructed the FAA to turn over the emergency test results to consumer groups. The FAA has refused to do so, or is slow-walking the process. After almost a year, consumer groups have not seen these testing results.

In April, a group of America’s largest consumer organizations met directly with the General Counsel of the FAA and the deputy administrator of the FAA and requested these evacuation test results. Those consumer advocates were told that the release of the data was in the process of being completed.

Download Airplane Carry-on ChecklistThe Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protection held a hearing on the issue of emergency aircraft evacuation and they were told by an FAA representative that to her knowledge no evacuation testing has been completed based on a plane with 28-inch seat pitch (the tightest configuration currently used by airlines).

It has now been almost ten months since the appeals court mandate and the FAA has failed to cooperate with the release of their test results. If the FAA has actually conducted those tests, it should be a simple matter to release the results data. Evidently, the testing was either not properly completed or the FAA is hiding the results (that by statute should be public information).

Meanwhile, airlines are taking away legroom and hip room from passengers in order to add passengers and squeeze more profit out of planes. After the court ruling, Delta Air Lines placed a new order for Airbus aircraft with only 28-inch seat pitch. Other wide-body aircraft are being reconfigured to allow ten passengers to sit across instead of the nine that used to be the norm.

The airlines’ profits are coming at the expense of passenger safety. At the same time, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is refusing to tell passengers how they have been testing new seating configurations and evacuation procedures, claiming that their tests are secret. This is a death trap recipe.

While DOT has abandoned consumer protections and is refusing to allow public laws to be put into effect that would allow families to sit together and for refunds of checked-baggage fees, the FAA is putting the public’s safety at risk by not making sure that our airplanes meet current FAA safety standards. Either the FAA should release the test data that they claim to have or the FAA should admit that they have failed to ensure proper passenger safety.