Two unrelated actions, one by the Executive Branch and one by the Boeing Commercial Aircraft Company, have attacked what might be called Cabin Fever.
The very large cylinder, which forms the environment of an airplane or Cabin, defines and confines the space for the collection of passengers. Because of that closed space, the people in the aircraft share the same air and the lavatories. Those conditions create the potential for health problems.
That analysis is why Congress banned smoking on domestic flights in 1987 and on flights to/from/within the US in 2000. That rule has been generally well received by the traveling public. Not addressing health (other than mental), the US DoT started a proceeding with the intent of banning talking on cellphones during commercial flights. That may be a stretch under the Secretary’s existing powers and Congress is considering a statutory ban like the tobacco free law.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette® reports that the “Federal Aviation Administration is forbidding use of the electronic variety” of cigarettes. The reporter explains that the new rule is based both on the health threat of vaping and the lithium batteries proclivity to ignite. The FAA rule, which will take effect 30 days after it was published this week in the Federal Register, will apply to all domestic and foreign airline flights in the United States.
It is not surprising for the press to attribute this action to the wrong agency because so many of the FAA’s actions are announced in a way that erroneously assigns the credit. The typical DoT press release quotes Secretary Foxx first and gives, almost begrudgingly, secondary credit to Administrator Huerta. Thus, the confusion is the result of this curious attribution practice.
However, the DoT announcement of the ban on vaping of e cigarettes on commercial aircraft opens as follows:
U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx today announced a final rule that explicitly bans the use of electronic cigarettes on commercial flights. The final rule applies to all scheduled flights of U.S. and foreign carriers involving transportation in, to, and from the U.S.
“This final rule is important because it protects airline passengers from unwanted exposure to electronic cigarette aerosol that occurs when electronic cigarettes are used onboard airplanes,” said Secretary Foxx. “The Department took a practical approach to eliminate any confusion between tobacco cigarettes and e-cigarettes by applying the same restrictions to both.”
In the press release’s last paragraph, it is finally, typically mentioned that the mode taking this action is the Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and cited the actual legal document (PHMSA’s Interim Final Rule) announcing this rule promulgation. Credit was due to PHMSA and was eventually given.
And no the FAA did not have the authority to ban the e cigarette as a hazardous material.
The next attack on Cabin Fever comes from the Boeing Commercial Aircraft Company. It has designed an ultraviolet light system which will remove 99.99 percent of germs in its planes’ lavatories, disinfect all surfaces after every use and keep the restroom from becoming a petri dish.
The Boeing new blue room central concept is that every element is touchless. The toilet lid, the trash bin, the water faucet and the hand dryer are all activated by passing a hand by a sensor. Thus the passenger can leave the toilet without ever having a human touch and greatly reducing the risk of transmission.
Beyond that the Boeing engineers are incorporating the power of ultraviolet light to eliminate the germ. After each visitor leaves the rest room and BEFORE the next occupant can enter, the Ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) disinfects microorganisms on the surfaces. That action also eliminates the common odors found in bathrooms. Germophobes will pick Boeing over the competitors.
Aviation safety, now particularly with the now redundant OSHA regulatory incursion, includes more than airworthiness and these two initiatives show some of this new dynamic.