Court orders FAA to review petition seeking airplane seat regulations

Judith Bessette
Julho 29, 2017

The judge rejected the FAA's argument that seat size was unimportant to exiting the plane in an emergency.

She compared the findings to "a study on tooth decay that only recorded participants' sugar consumption" but failed to examine brushing and flossing. The court also noted that the tests did not take into account that passengers have grown larger over the years.

All three judges on the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit agreed the FAA must conduct a new review of the request for regulations setting a minimum airline seat size. Since then, it has decreased to 31 inches (79 cm), and in some airplanes to 28 inches (71 cm).

In the past decade, the average seat width shrunk from about 18 inches to 16.5 inches.

The nonprofit group is concerned that airlines are putting the safety, health and comfort of airline passengers at risk by making seats smaller and closer together.

The court said the FAA had used "off-point" studies and "undisclosed tests using unknown parameters" to justify its initial refusal to review the rules.

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While the FAA has contended its standards for safely evacuating an aircraft are adequate, USA lawmakers have grilled members of the administration and airline executives on the issue at several hearings this year, and some have drafted legislation to address the issue.

FAA spokesman Greg Martin wrote in an e-mail the agency 'does consider seat pitch in testing and assessing the safe evacuation of commercial, passenger aircraft.

An airline trade group declined to comment. "The question is not whether seat dimensions matter, but when". "We hope the FAA will now take it up as a proper rulemaking".

United Airlines President Scott Kirby told a congressional hearing in May the airline had yet to decide whether to cut pitch to 29 inches in some seats.

Current safety regulations require that all occupants in a fully-loaded aircraft be able to evacuate within 90 seconds in an emergency, under conditions that may cause half of the exits to become disabled in low-light conditions.

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