In the wake of the tragic crash of Asiana Airlines Flight 214 at San Francisco International Airport, which resulted in the death of three passengers and a substantial number of spinal cord injuries, aircraft seats and seatbelts – and their role in passenger safety – are now firmly in the spotlight.
During a press briefing yesterday, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) chairman Deborah Hersman said the board’s survival factors group noted that seatbelts in business class had a shoulder/lap belt and travel class had lap only.
The industry now appears divided on whether or not it is necessary to consider installing three-point harnesses on all seats. “If you’re going to add a three-point harness, you’ll have to redesign seats and take away from passenger comfort,” a long-time veteran tells the APEX Editor’s Blog. An Asiana Airlines spokesman reportedly cited concerns to The Wall Street Journal that harness belt holders would protrude in economy class seats, and present a possible danger to passengers.
One thing is clear – the aircraft interiors industry is bracing for potential new regulations. “This accident will probably, in the near future, turn out stricter rules,” Doria De Chiara, business development manager at seat maker Geven, said this week.
Over the last several years aircraft seat regulations have been strengthened. Flam testing has also been bolstered, especially following the Koito seat debacle (the Japanese firm falsified test data on some 150,000 seats in the world fleet).
While some older aircraft still carry 9g seats, all new aircraft seats are designed to withstand the following: 16g forward, 16 forward at 10 degrees and 14g down. “There are side to side tests and also back tests; these tests are only to certify the strength of the frame, not passenger safety,” notes Kosta Gianakopoulos, an aircraft interiors and IFE integration consultant. “For each of the ‘g directions’, there is a multitude of tests that a seat with the ATD (dummy) must pass. For 14g down, there are spinal loads that get measured on the ATD, they must be lower than a certain amount.”
Sadly, the NTSB now has a real-world test sample to determine if additional measures are required to prevent spinal cord injuries (be they a result of compression or stretching). Noted aviation safety expert, and APEX media contributor Christine Negroni reports that the NTSB will compare the damage of each individual seat to injuries suffered by Flight 214 occupants.
Ronn Cort, president of thermoplastics specialist KYDEX (a leading supplier to interiors firms) concludes in a blog post: “From this research and analysis will come new learning. With that knowledge, new questions, new challenges, and most importantly, new opportunities for improvement will arise.
“The industry learns from every event. Procedures and materials are always advancing. I extend my kudos to the FAA and the entire industry, which continually learns and improves. I’m confident that we will soon take another step forward, making flying even safer than it is today.”
Meanwhile, some aviation industry observers believe it’s time to pay far closer attention to other industries, such as automotive, to improve the safety of airline passengers. Hat tip to @Supervation on Twitter for providing some food for thought with the following video from Mercedes: