Senators Call Part 121 Aircraft Evacuation Standards ‘Unrealistic’

The Emergency Vacating of Aircraft Cabin (EVAC) bill would compel the FAA to simulate more realistic scenarios, including passengers across a wider age range and physical abilities, and with carry-ons.

Current rules say airlines must be able to evacuate passengers within 90 seconds. [Courtesy: Adobe Stock]

U.S. lawmakers introduced a bill Thursday that would require the FAA to publish new aircraft evacuation standards for Part 121 commercial aircraft, Reuters reported

Senators Tammy Duckworth and Tammy Baldwin co-sponsored the Emergency Vacating of Aircraft Cabin (EVAC) bill that would require future FAA evacuation simulations to include more realistic scenarios, including passengers across a wider age range and physical abilities, and with carry-on bags.  

The current standards require pilots and cabin crews of airlines to fully evacuate the aircraft in 90 seconds or less. 

Specifically, FAR 121.291, which governs emergency evacuations, states that "each certificate holder must conduct an actual demonstration of emergency evacuation procedures… to show that each type and model of the airplane with a seating capacity of more than 44 passengers to be used in its passenger-carrying operations allows the evacuation of the full capacity, including crew members, in 90 seconds or less."

The senators' push for the FAA to update its standards is related to a study it released in March of this year that sought to establish a minimum seat size for airline travel and which factored in simulated emergency evacuations. The report garnered more than 26,000 public comments regarding the seat sizes and their effect on evacuation, which the FAA said it was reviewing but explained that it only followed guidelines set by Congress, according to Reuters.

So now, the senators are also weighing in. Duckworth, who is a double amputee, said she was "appalled" that the evacuations were not a "realistic test" because "they are using groups of able-bodied people," according to the Reuters report.

In 2018, Congress directed the FAA to set minimum dimensions for passenger seats necessary for passenger safety. While the FAA has conducted studies to evaluate the situation, with the results published in the March 2022 report, it still needs to update its standards.

The results would ultimately affect airline crew training, as FAR 121.417 requires airline training programs to include pilots coordinating evacuations.

Michael Wildes holds a master’s degree in Logistics & Supply Chain Management, and a bachelor’s degree in Aeronautical Science, both from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Previously, he worked at the university’s flight department as a Flight Check Airman, Assistant Training Manager, and Quality Assurance Mentor. He holds MEI, CFI & CFII ratings. Follow Michael on Twitter @Captainwildes.

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