Thursday, September 14, 2017

Why Statistics on Airline Safety Are Out of Date

Every time you fly, you hear the airplane safety demonstration. What to do if you lose cabin pressure, the location of your life vest, and so on. Research and statistical modeling has been conducted to ensure that, in an emergency, people have a high chance of getting out safely, and to know exactly what that chance is in different scenarios.

What you may not know is that the reduction of coach legroom is not only annoying - it's dangerous, because it nullifies that research and modeling:
As airlines pack seats tighter than ever, the tests supposed to show that passengers can get out alive in a crash are woefully out of date. The FAA won’t make the results public, and a court warns there is “a plausible life-and-death safety concern.”

The tests carried out to ensure that all the passengers can safely exit a cabin in an emergency are dangerously outdated and do not reflect how densely packed coach class seating has become—or how the size of passengers has simultaneously increased.

No coach class seat meets the Department of Transportation’s own standard for the space required to make a flight attendant’s seat safe in an emergency.

Neither Boeing nor the Federal Aviation Administration will disclose the evacuation test data for the newest (and most densely seated) versions of the most widely used jet, the Boeing 737.
For instance, you've probably seen the picture in the safety card showing the "crash position":

That position, also known as the "brace position," is intended to reduce head and spine trauma during a crash. But to keep from hitting your head on the seat in front, it requires about 35 inches of headroom. The average amount of space today is more like 31 inches, and on some planes, it's as low as 28 inches.

More passengers in a small space also means evacuations take longer, which can be the difference between life and death if, for instance, the plane catches on fire.

Yes, crashes are rare. Very rare. The problem is that, if a crash occurs, the probability that everyone can get out alive is unknown, at least to the public.

But we may know soon:
In a case brought by the non-profit activist group Flyers Rights and heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, a judge said there was “a plausible life-and-death safety concern” about what is called the “densification” of seats in coach. The court ordered the Federal Aviation Administration to respond to a petition filed by Flyers Rights to promulgate new rules to deal with safety issues created by shrinking seat sizes and space in coach class cabins.

The court gave the FAA until Dec. 28 to respond.

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