September 18, 2020

Chairs DeFazio and Larsen: Newly Released Office of Inspector General Report Highlights Serious Concerns About Current Airplane Evacuation Standards

According to the OIG report, the most recent update to FAA standards was based on an accident that occurred nearly 30 years ago

Washington, D.C. – Today, Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Chair of the Aviation Subcommittee Rick Larsen (D-WA) called attention to a new audit from the U.S. Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General (OIG), which examined whether the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is effectively ensuring that new airplane designs can safely be evacuated in emergencies quickly enough to minimize injury or loss of life. Chairs DeFazio and Larsen had requested the audit in March 2018 in order to better assess whether the FAA’s assumptions and analyses had kept pace with changing passenger behavior and cabin environments over the last several decades.

According to the OIG report, FAA “largely updates evacuation standards only after accidents and conducted its last update based on an accident in 1991.” Furthermore, the OIG report found the FAA has failed to consider passenger behavior, such as the increasing number of passengers with carry-on bags, seat dimensions, and the presence of emotional support animals.

“The Inspector General’s findings are not only eye-opening, the findings demand action from the FAA,” Chair DeFazio said. “We know that in an emergency, every second counts—and it’s deeply troubling that current airplane evacuation regulations in the U.S. rely on decades-old data that fail to account for modern passenger behavior, like passengers trying to retrieve rollaboard suitcases—which weren’t in common use in 1991— or stopping to record videos on their phones. This changing passenger behavior has been of concern for some time, which is why I included a provision in the 2018 FAA reauthorization bill specifically asking the FAA to review its assumptions and methodology regarding its evacuation standards. Unfortunately, the agency has failed to meet the deadline set by Congress to conduct this review, which is now nearly a year overdue. Today’s report should give the FAA a sense of urgency to get this review to Congress ASAP so we can work together to keep people safe.”

 “As Chair of the Aviation Subcommittee, I make the safety of passengers and aviation workers my top priority,” said Chair Larsen. “The Inspector General’s report highlights the need for the FAA to incorporate comprehensive data, including changing passenger behavior, into how the agency updates its airplane evacuation standards. I will continue to work with the FAA, Chair DeFazio and my colleagues to make air travel safer for passengers and aviation workers and ensure the U.S. aviation system remains the gold standard.”