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INSTALL SAFER SEATS ON AIRPLANES

SHARE INSTALL SAFER SEATS ON AIRPLANES

Nearly a year ago, this page urged Congress to put more pressure on the Federal Aviation Administration to make air travel as safe as new technology permits.

We did so because the FAA's procurement system is so slow that new equipment purchased to modernize air traffic control is often obsolete by the time it is delivered and installed.Moreover, the FAA has shown less than a great sense of urgency about requiring the airlines to install new collision-avoidance devices on all passenger planes.

Now the FAA is at it again.

It's isn't just that the FAA isn't expected to get around to requiring airlines to install safer new seats on all commercial aircraft until 1995. What's also disturbing is the present slow pace for phasing in the improved seats.

So far, the St. Petersburg, Fla., Times reports, only about 15 percent of existing airplane seats have been replaced with the new ones. It's hard to believe the pace would be so slow if the FAA really cared as much about public safety as it is supposed to - or if the traveling public were fully aware of the advantages of the new seats.

The new seats are designed to withstand 16 times the force of gravity, nearly twice the capacity of the old seats, and are less likely to snap loose from the floor after the impact of a crash. The new 16-G seats, as they are called, also meet stricter standards for protecting a passenger's head, spine and legs.

In other words, the new seats can save lives. The FAA should not be taking its own sweet time about implementing this safeguard.

Meanwhile, air travelers ought to know what the new seats look like. If passengers look closely once they get on board, they may be able to tell the difference between the old and new seats because some of the new ones have curbed legs that help absorb an impact.

If enough travelers demand to be seated in 16-G seats, it might help speed up their installation. Meanwhile, until the FAA gets a move on, knowledgeable air passengers evidently will have to help protect themselves by seeking out the newer and stronger seats.