FAA action on seat standards and emergency evacuations became two years overdue Tuesday, October 5, 2021, and the FAA has shown no evidence of making progress on either issue.
Congress passed the FAA Reauthorization Act on October 5, 2018. The law required the FAA to set minimum seat standards and evaluate its emergency evacuation standards by October 5, 2019. While the FAA convened the Emergency Evacuation Advisory Rulemaking Committee, the FAA has not released the Committee's May 2020 report to Congress or to the public. The report contained 23 recommendations for updating and modernizing the evacuation certification process.
"The FAA is thumbing its nose at Congress and passengers each day it refuses to act on these two important aviation safety issues," explained Paul Hudson, the President of FlyersRights.org. "The FAA needs to catch up to the times.
Passengers are older and larger, seats continue to shrink, planes are fuller, more carry-on bags are brought on planes, and the FAA continues to allow the airplane manufacturers to rely on older data, assumptions, and simulations instead of newer data or conducting new tests."
FlyersRights.org is planning to submit a new rulemaking petition if the FAA refuses to act soon. Its 2015 rulemaking petition, named "The Case of the Incredible Shrinking Airline Seat" by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, helped shine a light on FAA's inaction and outdated standards.
In September 2020, the Department of Transportation's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) released a report detailing the many flaws in the FAA's emergency evacuation certification and testing process. Notably, the OIG revealed that the FAA misled FlyersRights.org in 2018 when, in denying the rulemaking petition for a second time, the FAA claimed that it had overseen multiple evacuation demonstrations at a 28 inch seat pitch.
The FAA included three videos and declared they were conducted at 28 inches. But in reality, out of the 43 emergency evacuations that the FAA oversaw, only one was conducted at 28 inch seat pitch. The other demonstrations ranged as high as 38 inches, while 13 of the 43 demonstrations made no reference to any seat pitch, width, or size at all.
The OIG report (Report No. AV2020045) can be found here.
FlyersRights.org maintains up to date passenger rights information at www.flyersrights.org and also provides passengers with legal information and appropriate contacts by phone, 877-FLYERS-6 and by email, firstname.lastname@example.org.