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Watchdog knocks FAA over emergency jet evacuations

Published:Sunday | September 20, 2020 | 6:34 AM

The Department of Transportation Federal Aviation Administration building in Washington.
The Department of Transportation Federal Aviation Administration building in Washington.

The US Federal Aviation Administration hasn’t updated standards for emergency airliner evacuations in nearly two decades, a period when travellers have increasingly had to deal with tighter aircraft seats, more carry-on bags and support animals, a government watchdog says.

The US Transportation Department’s Inspector General said in an audit report released Friday that the FAA and hasn’t done enough research to evaluate the new risks. In addition, it says the FAA largely only updates standards after accidents and hasn’t revised them since a 1991 accident.

“This lack of data inhibits FAA’s ability to determine how to improve evacuation regulations and protect passenger safety in emergencies,” the report said.

It’s also hampering the FAA’s response to 2018 mandates by the United States Congress that the agency evaluate evacuation procedures and set minimums for seat sizes and the distance between rows, the report said.

The FAA also doesn’t account for smoke in emergencies, or the use of personal electronic devices, the report concluded.

The Inspector General recommended that the FAA regularly collect and analyse emergency evacuation data to find out if standards need to be changed. The agency also should make sure that data used in airplane manufacturers’ evacuation demonstrations is up to date.

The FAA agreed with both of the Inspector General’s recommendations, the audit report said.

But in a memo responding to the report, the FAA said it has enacted increasingly rigorous cabin safety requirements over the years including tougher standards for exit pathways, emergency lighting, escape systems, flammability of materials and testing of seats.

“These system requirements have increased survivability and the amount of time available for successful evacuations, as demonstrated in many accidents,” the FAA wrote.

The inspector general issued the report in response to a request from members of the House Transportation Committee, which followed a confused evacuation in 2016 of an American Airlines jet in Chicago after an engine fire.

– AP