Senator Schumer’s seat bill may not fit his desired outcome—size or time

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Schumer: FAA too slow tackling airline seat size concerns

Senator’s legislation not likely to reach his goal

If seats declared unsafe (not uncomfortable), all planes would be grounded

Existing tests are performance based and safe 

H.R.302 FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 10/05/2018 became Public Law No: 115-254 on October 5, 2018 and 37 days afterwards, the Senior Senator of New York is quoted as saying:

NEW YORK — The Senate’s top Democrat says the Federal Aviation Administration isn’t moving fast enough to roll out a plan to stop airlines from shrinking passengers’ seats.

Sen. Charles Schumer says federal officials should be doing more to comply with a law to establish minimum seat size standards for airplanes.

The law, part of a bill passed in September, requires the FAA to set the seat-size guidelines. It gives the FAA a year to tackle shrinking seats and give an opportunity for the public to weigh in.

But the New York Democrat says the FAA must move faster. He says the agency hasn’t established a plan to “rein in” shrinking seats. The FAA said it “is working to address the provision in the reauthorization bill.”

 

 

 

 

 

[The Senator inspecting an airplane.]

One familiar with legislative drafting, which the Senator as a Member of Congress for 37 years and as a Leader of the Senate for over a decade[1], his provision on Minimum Seat Size Standards would merit some prominence in the FAA Reauthorization[2]. To demonstrate its urgency, it should be named in one of the Titles or even a section- the Bill is almost 2,000 sections long. The Senator’s mandate is found in Section 337(a)(1)(D), that is buried.

SEC. 337. AIRCRAFT CABIN EVACUATION PROCEDURES.

(a) REVIEW. —The Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration shall review—

(1) evacuation certification of transport-category aircraft used in air transportation, with regard to—

(A) emergency conditions, including impacts into water;

(B) crew procedures used for evacuations under actual emergency conditions;

(C) any relevant changes to passenger demographics and legal requirements, including the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (42 U.S.C. 12101 et seq.), that affect emergency evacuations;

 and

(D) any relevant changes to passenger seating configurations, including changes to seat width, padding, reclining, size, pitch, leg room, and aisle width;

and

(2) recent accidents and incidents in which passengers evacuated such aircraft.

(b) CONSULTATION; REVIEW OF DATA. —In conducting the review under subsection

(a), the Administrator shall—

 (1) consult with the National Transportation Safety Board, transport-category aircraft manufacturers, air carriers, and other relevant experts and Federal agencies, including groups representing passengers, airline crew members, maintenance employees, and emergency responders;

and

(2) review relevant data with respect to evacuation certification of transport-category aircraft.

(c) REPORT TO CONGRESS. —Not later than 1 year after the date of enactment of this Act, the Administrator shall submit to the appropriate committees of Congress a report on the results of the review under subsection (a) and related recommendations, if any, including recommendations for revisions to the assumptions and methods used for assessing evacuation certification of transport- category aircraft.


Now to parse the Schumer seat provision:

  • It instructs the FAA Administrator to review emergency evacuation certification of transport category aircraft.

[NOTE: every aircraft flying today has been found to meet that safety standard. If as the Senator presumes, those tests were not appropriate, every airplane would be grounded until the Schumer seat standards are met.]

  • It directs the review to examine emergency conditions, i.e. in the water [like the Miracle on the Hudson, for which the evacuation was most successful.]
  • It directs the study to examine the existing procedures [about which the FAA is already well informed and oh by the way are substantially similar to the rules of the rest of the world.]
  • The section mandates that the FAA passenger demographics[3] (age, gender, marital status [see footnote; no mention of height, weight]) and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • The point of the Senator’s complaint:

any relevant changes to passenger seating configurations, including changes to seat width, padding, reclining, size, pitch, leg room, and aisle width;

          [NOTE: 14 CFR§121.291,; AC 25.803-1A and FSIMS Chapter 77 are the          tests to demonstrate whether the evacuation; the FAA already has that information.]

and the Senator already knew those numbers:

 

 

  • The section adds that the FAA should incorporate “recent accidents and incidents in which passengers evacuated such aircraft.” [NOTE: even when the passengers ignored the crew’s instructions in an evacuation in Las Vegas

 

 

 

 

 

  • Now section 337 defines consultation requirements

consult with the National Transportation Safety Board, transport-category aircraft manufacturers, air carriers, and other relevant experts and Federal agencies, including groups representing passengers, airline crew members, maintenance employees, and emergency responders;

[It is highly likely that such inclusion of the public will be required by the Administrative Procedures Act to make such a request through the Federal Register, which could have as many as 90 days between the FR notice and comments plus possible extensions plus the staff/Office of the DOT Secretary/OMB reviews of the public input. It is not unusual for those steps to consume months.]

  • The section requires that the FAA send Congress:

a report on the results of the review under subsection (a) and related recommendations, if any, including recommendations for revisions to the assumptions and methods used for assessing evacuation certification of transport- category aircraft.

Based on the Senator’s comments, one would assume that he prejudges the outcome of the Section 337 review and that the recommendation will be to “rein in” shrinking seats.

The FAA is not omnipotent; it cannot order those subject to its jurisdiction to expand seat width and/or sat pitch on the basis of “COMFORT”. To compel a change in those dimensions the FAA would have to declare all (all but first class seats) UNSAFE. The Schumer statute would be known for grounding the US fleet. Once the airplanes are reconfigure to the Schumer dimensions, the cost of airfares[4] would increase substantially and the availability of seats would shrink.   

Perhaps the Senator would like to participate in the seat tests[5].

The Senator’s bill make require more time than he intended, but his language mandates procedures demanding time. More pointedly, the preferred outcome could be a disaster and the existing facts appear not to support his prejudged result.

 

 

[1] No, the Senator does not write legislative language, but given his experience and stature, he has the BEST staff for such work.

[2] The original version of the FAA Reauthorization Act included Sec. 557 “minimum standards for passengers seating” http://jdasolutions.aero/blog/hr-302-section-577-not-mandate-seat-room/

[3] demographics plural : the statistical characteristics of human populations (such as age or income) used especially to identify markets per Mirriam-Webster{ https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/demographic. See US Census https://www.census.gov/ces/dataproducts/demographicdata.html Typical factors include age, gender, marital status, race, education, income and occupation.

[4] The two New York Democrats were the top spenders on private air travel between October 2014 and September 2015, an analysis of Senate office-account records shows.

 

[5] Although the Senator does not appear to handle stress well in airplanes.



 

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