Congressman Cohen’s Inquiry Results in FAA Safety Audit

June 19, 2018
Press Release
Safety of shrinking airplane seat sizes and distance between rows will get FAA attention

WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), who introduced the Seat Egress in Air Travel (SEAT) Act to require the FAA to establish minimum seat sizes and distances between rows to help address concerns about the safe evacuation of airplanes in emergencies, applauded this week’s decision by the Office of the Inspector General at the Department of Transportation (DOT) to audit the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) oversight of the actual time it takes to safely evacuate various aircraft models.

In a February 27th hearing of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Aviation, on which he serves as a senior member, Congressman Cohen pressed FAA Associate Administer Ali Bahrami and John DeLisi, director of the Office of Aviation Safety for the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), about the October 28, 2016, American Airlines Flight 383, which took two minutes and 21 seconds to evacuate, far longer than the 90 seconds federal safety regulations require.

Congressman Cohen asked Bahrami if the FAA takes seriously a July 2017 U.S. Court of Appeals order that it take seat size and “pitch” – the distance between seat rows – into consideration in evaluating the safe evacuation of airplanes.

Bahrami responded, “Absolutely,” and affirmed the agency would take action based on the court order. The FAA has not done so to date.

Congressman Cohen made the following comment:

“Passenger safety is paramount. I’m pleased that at long last an audit of seat size and pitch will be conducted, reviewing the FAA’s oversight and evaluation of whether all models of aircraft can meet the 90-second safety evacuation standard. My SEAT Act called for regulations to be issued based on just this sort of audit—a comprehensive analysis to determine if airlines have, in their effort to squeeze as many customers as possible onto their flights, shrunk seat sizes so much as to put passenger safety at risk.

“It is important that the public understands that passenger sizes and seating capacity have changed and may be having an impact on the time it takes to safely evacuate aircraft. I’m glad the Office of the Inspector General has now committed to examining these factors, including the FAA’s failure to take its own action on the matter, and I look forward to its conclusions, recommendations and to future passage of the SEAT Act to ensure safety comes first when it comes to seat sizes.”

The SEAT Act was included in the House-passed reauthorization of the FAA (H.R. 4) earlier this year.