FAA Clarifies Seat Belt Rules

The FAA has issued a document clarifying the rules regarding the use of seat belts for part 91 operations. It is still permissible under 14 CFR 91.107 (a)(3) to share seat belts and to allow children under the age of two to be held on the lap of an adult without any restraining system. But the pilot in command must check whether the airplane flight manual (AFM) allows for such use, whether the seat belt is approved and rated for such use and whether the structural strength requirements for the seat are within the limits.

The catalyst for the clarification was a Pilatus PC-12 accident in 2009 in which 14 people died. Since the PC-12 had a total of nine seats, the number of passengers exceeded the number of seats. Seven of the passengers were children. According to the recent FAA document, the NTSB was "unable to determine the original seating position of most of the occupants" and that the children were likely "unrestrained or improperly restrained."

While there is no way to tell whether any of the passengers would have survived had they been properly secured with separate seat belts, there is no doubt that the children would have been safer in their own seats.

The NTSB recommended that the FAA withdraw the rule that allows shared use of seat belts. While the FAA did not change the rule itself, the clarification document strongly advises all pilots to ensure that each passenger has his or her own seat, each with its own seat belt.

Small children are safest if strapped into their own seat with a restraining system such as CARES – Child Aviation Restraint System, an FAA approved shoulder harness that connects to the existing seat belt, or in a car seat that is approved for aviation use.

Pia Bergqvist joined FLYING in December 2010. A passionate aviator, Pia started flying in 1999 and quickly obtained her single- and multi-engine commercial, instrument and instructor ratings. After a decade of working in general aviation, Pia has accumulated almost 3,000 hours of flight time in nearly 40 different types of aircraft.

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