"Incredible shrinking airline seat" gets an appeals court rebuke



United States aviation authorities were ordered back to the drawing board on Friday to solve what a federal appeals judge called 'The Case of the Incredible Shrinking Airline Seat'.

In the past decade, the average seat width shrunk from about 18 inches to 16.5 inches.

The ruling requires the FAA to reconsider the petition and that if the request is again rejected, the agency must provide reports and studies to justify the decision.

Economy-class seat pitch has decreased in size in the last three decades from an average of 35 inches in the 1970s to between 31 and 28 inches on some commercial airlines today.

While the FAA has contended its standards for safely evacuating an aircraft are adequate, USA lawmakers have grilled members of the administration and airline executives on the issue at several hearings this year, and some have drafted legislation to address the issue. "That type of vaporous record will not do", the court said.

The FAA dismissed the petition previous year, saying tests have shown that passengers can still escape a plane quickly even with such small seats.

Paul Hudson, president of Flyersrights.org, said the ruling may force the FAA to take the problem of shrinking seats seriously.

Airlines for America, a trade group for the large USA carriers, said in an email it was not involved in the suit and referred to FAA for comment. "We hope the FAA will now take it up as a proper rulemaking".

The long-term impact of the court rules remains unclear.

Last month American Airlines Group Inc said it would reduce leg room by one inch, down to 30 inches, instead of by the two inches it had originally planned to do on some seats in its Boeing 737 MAX jets.

In part because full-scale evacuation tests have resulted in serious injuries, the FAA and other agencies have in some cases allowed manufacturers to substitute computer simulation and more limited tests.

Current safety regulations require that all occupants in a fully-loaded aircraft be able to evacuate within 90 seconds in an emergency, under conditions that may cause half of the exits to become disabled in low-light conditions.

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