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Wed, Aug 03, 2022

FAA to Consider Aircraft Seat Size Regulations

Breadth Management and Perfect Pitch

The Federal Aviation Administration, in hopes of finally acting on a 2018 Congressional mandate, has announced an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) inviting public comment on the minimum dimensions of commercial aircraft seats. The comment period, after the fashion of American societal memory, will endure for ninety-days.  During that time, members of the public may submit feedback, opinions, gripes, suggestions, etc. pertaining to the size of seats on commercial aircraft. The FAA will (ostensibly) factor public opinion gleaned during the comment period into the drafting of new regulations appurtenant to aircraft seat-size.

Airliner seats have shrunk over the last 37-years—drastically. In 1985, the average width of an economy-class seat was 18-inches. In 2022, economy-class seats average 16.5 inches across—a drop of almost nine-percent. The average pitch of airliner seats—the space between a given point on one seat and the same point on the next—has shrunk as well, from 1985’s 35-inches to 2022’s 31-inches—about 12%.

Notwithstanding the sore necks, bruised knees, numb feet, and frayed nerves such crowding engenders, the real problem of packing passengers aboard airliners as Procter and Gamble packs Pringles into cans isn’t comfort—it’s safety. Evacuating 190-passengers from a smoldering Spirit Airlines A320 with a seat-pitch of 28-inches (among the tightest in the business) via eight exits—the largest of which is 24-inches-wide—is a nightmare measurable in Triangle Shirtwaists.  

In 2015, FlyersRights.org—a U.S. nonprofit that advocates for the rights and interests of airline passengers—put forward a petition seeking to establish a size-standard for commercial aircraft seats. The initiative was backed by Congress, which stipulated in the FAA’s 2018 funding authorization that the agency was to move forward with the drafting and implementation of minimum seat-size regulations.

The FAA failed to do so, however, and has yet to put forth an explanation for its nonfeasance.

FlyersRights.org president Paul Hudson remarked: "At some point, enough is enough. The FAA has had three years to address this important safety issue. As we have seen with safety certification, particularly with the Boeing 737 MAX, the FAA chooses to continue to act as a tombstone agency, only acting after fatal accidents occur."

In November 2019, the FAA made the token gesture of conducting a series of evacuation tests with a lazy-eye toward drafting the Congressionally mandated seat-size regulations. The agency even went so far as to study approximately three-hundred real-world evacuations—before again doing nothing.

Whether or not a single one of the FAA’s fifty-thousand employees will be impelled to action by public response to the current ANPRM remains to be seen. What can be stated with certainty, however, is that Congressional hubris doesn’t long suffer indifference—a truism FAA leadership would do well to bear in mind if they want the agency’s funding bill reauthorized in 2023.

FMI: www.faa.gov 

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