NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

FAA Regulations Create Another Problem

September 22, 1999

The Federal Aviation Administration has decreed that all aircraft certified since 1988 must install superstrong airline seats that won't break apart during a "survivable" crash. So at a cost of $5 billion over 10 years, all U.S. airlines are voluntarily retro-fitting their seats.

But this has generated a new problem. Many passengers face an additional danger: if the seat in front acts as a buffer, one's head suddenly becomes a 260-pound bowling ball on impact -- swinging it down to one's knees or even the floor.

So the airlines are having to spend another $600 million -- on top of a developmental cost of $25 million -- for airbags to cushion a crash shock when the new seats are installed.

Is the money, and the increase in fares it will prompt, justified?

  • Of the 364 U.S. airline accidents between 1983 and 1996, 24 were deemed very serious by authorities and 17 were called "survivable."
  • Of the 1,759 passengers on those 17 survivable flights, 78 percent survived, 15 percent died from blunt-trauma injuries, and five percent died from smoke inhalation or fire.
  • Airbags or some other extra restraint may have helped save the 15 percent -- and some of the 5 percent may have gotten out if they hadn't been knocked out by the impact.
  • So experts believe that the new airbags will save no more than 25 lives a year -- at a total cost of $5.6 billion.

Out of 700 million passengers who fly each year, only 160 persons lose their lives, on average.

Source: Howard Banks, "In for a Dime, in for $5.6 Billion," Forbes, October 4, 1999.


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