Loose Passenger Seat Problems Resolved?

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ARTICLE: FAA urges airlines to inspect seats made by Texas firm

The FAA has recommended that airlines using seats made by Weber Aircraft — which made seats that came loose on American Airlines planes last month — inspect them.

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Aviation safety incidents are high profile events; consequently, they frequently attract more heat than light. Speculation is a rampant sport in situations like the repeated events with American Airlines (AA) instances in which the seat rows came out of their floor moorings. The pundits immediately suggested everything from the failures demonstrated the poor quality AA maintenance organization, the transition to a new AA outsourced maintenance provider and even innuendos of union sabotage.

After indicating that the problem was due to a faulty seat clamp, now both AA and the FAA concur that the problem derives from locking pins in the seat that failed to engage, possibly because of a build-up of debris due to spilled soft drinks, coffee and juice etc.

The seat manufacturer issued instructions, most likely through a service bulletin, on how to inspect and replace fittings on the seats. The FAA elected not to issue an Airworthiness Directive (AD), but rather recommended that operators using 11 Weber seat models inspect them for loose seats and incorrectly installed fittings. Whenever any safety event takes place operators usually take prudent action to report, inspect, analyze and take corrective action.

The FAA issues ADs when an unsafe condition is found to exist in a product and the condition is likely to exist or develop in other products of the same type design. It is very interesting that the FAA did not initiate AD action especially when 25 operators worldwide had similar Weber seats installed.

In many instances, when a safety event like this takes place, operators will initiate a fleet inspection on their own initiative due to the urging of the manufacturer and/or the FAA. If the results come back negative, or if it is determined to be an isolated incident, an AD may not have to be published. In this case it would appear that no other loose seats were discovered. Therefore, the FAA decided, based on inspection data, risk assessment and problem resolution, that the problem was confirmed, a solution was already developed and that a recommendation was published.

This was an instructive lesson demonstrating how the final determination of the safety problem is often not what the initial or subsequent analysis indicates. A good safety management system (SMS) is a comprehensive, proactive methodology; a robust SMS program is designed to capture such issues before they become problems. JDA has the resources to help a carrier establish an SMS that works for its systems and people.

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