The FAA is beginning a regulatory review process that could lead to the establishment of size standards for commercial aircraft seats as well as space between aircraft rows.
The first stage will be a document asking the public to provide feedback on the safety impacts of existing seat widths, seat lengths and row spacing (called a “pitch” in industry parlance) .
Current regulations do not dictate a minimum for these dimensions, but require that the aircraft can be evacuated within 90 seconds.
The public will have 90 days to submit recommendations after the Request for Comments document is published in the Federal Register.
The FAA will then decide whether it believes new regulatory standards are necessary. The agency said comments that include technical data will be most helpful.
As part of a 2018 FAA funding bill, Congress directed the agency to set new standards for seat size and location based on what is “necessary for safe and the health of passengers”.
In March, the agency finally released the results of the evacuation tests it conducted from November 2019 to March 2020. The report states that the cabin configurations currently used by US carriers do not impede the progress of evacuation for 99% of the American population. However, in a separate letter to lawmakers, then-FAA administrator Steve Dickson noted that the tests relied only on able-bodied adults under 60. No elderly people, children or disabled people took part.
“As a result, they provide useful, but not necessarily definitive, information regarding the effects of seat dimensions on safe evacuations for all populations,” Dickson wrote.
The comment document will ask the public for their views on the seat and pitch dimensions “necessary to ensure safety when evacuating by air a wide range of passengers”, including demographic groups not included in the evacuation tests.