Air Transport World

A back seat to safety.

FAA's revival of its long-dormant 16g rulemaking is a step backward, says the industry.

If the airline industry has its way, then sometime soon, perhaps even by the time this article appears, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration will withdraw or substantially rewrite its decade-old proposal to require the installation of 16g passenger seats on all commercial transport aircraft operated by U.S. airlines.

The long-dormant Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which was resurrected last fall, calls for carriers to retrofit their fleets with the seats over the next four years. But the aviation community believes that as written, the regulation will do little to improve safety and mandates a compliance schedule that simply cannot be met under the most optimistic production scenarios.

Airlines and the commercial air transport manufacturing industry do not oppose a 16g-seat retrofit rule in principle. Research long has shown that occupants have a better chance of escaping death or serious injury when seats stay intact and attached to the floor, and subsequent studies have confirmed this.

In fact the industry has been building and installing seats that meet at least hail of the requirements of the NPRM since 1992. As ATA Senior VP-Aviation Safety and Operations Robert Frenzel noted in testimony at a two-day public meeting in Washington last December, the "industry has undertaken this evolution voluntarily" and today more than half of the aircraft in the U.S. fleet are equipped with these so-called 16g-compatible" seats.

Airline and aerospace manufacturing interests made their concerns known at the December meeting and the agency appears to be taking the comments to heart. FAA will not discuss its position during the rulemaking process, but a senior regulator told ATW that the agency is reviewing all of its options, including withdrawing the rule or rewriting it to reflect the changes that have occurred in the industry since it first was proposed in 1988. …

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