- Experts say seats and seat belts have not been tested for heavier people.
Twenty years ago, when the federal standards on the strength of airplane seats and seat belts were written, the Federal Aviation . Administration specified that the tests be conducted on crash dummies weighing 170 pounds —a weight that the FAA said represented the midpoint of ,air passengers’ weight.
Now the average American man weighs nearly 194 pounds, and the average woman, 165. And some ‘engineers and scientists have raised questions about whether air plane seats are strong enough to protect heavy travelers;
“If a heavier person completely fills a seat, the seat is not likely to behave as intended during a crash,” said Robert Salzar, the principal scientist at the Center for Applied Bio-mechanics at the University of Virginia. “The energy absorption that is built into the aircraft seat is likely to be overwhelmed, and the occupants will not be protected optimally”
Seatnuteg at risk, too
Nor would the injury necessarily, be Confined, to that passenger, Salzar said. If seats collapse Or belts are not sufficient to hold heavy Passengers, he Said-, those seated nearby could be endangered from “the unrestrained mo–= tion of the passenger.”
Yoshihiro Ozawa, an engineer whose company, Jasti Ltd. in Japan, has been making crash dummies for transportation safety certification tests for 20 years, raised similar concerns. “If we don’t test With heavier dummnies, we won’t know if it is safe enough,” Ozawa said through an interpreter in a phone interview.”There is no regulation that says they have to test for heavier.”
Executives with two US airline-seat manufacturers declined to comment on the issue. Dede Potter. a spokes-woman for one of those manufacturers, B/E Aerospace, said only, ” We comply with said industry regulations.”
In 2005, the FAA updated the average passenger weights used in calculating each flight’s total weight and balance.Men’s weight was raised by 25 pounds to 200, and women’s by 34 pounds to 179.( That is the summer canculation; it is higher in the winter when traveler are wearing heavier clothes.)
The size of the seats is not a function of passenger weight but a legacy of airplane design from a generation ago, said Vern Alg, a former airline executive who is now a private consultant.”The restriction is the dimension, the width of the aircraft,”he said.”With Boeing narrow bodies, for example, if they are going to have six seats across, they can only be 17.1 inches wide.”
Strength and size -are not the only . factors affecting safety ,when the passenger is overweight. Use of the seat belt can also be a problem.
The seat belt factor.
Dietrich Jehle, a professor of emergency medicine at the University at Buffalo who has concluded a study of more than 300,000 serious automobile accidents, said he ;found that Very overweight :drivers -faced, an increased risk of death in a severe crash and that they were 67 percent less likely to be wearing seat belts, which he suspected was for reasons of comfort. He said airlines and car coin-panics needed to address the challenges of protecting over-Weight people.
NoraMarshall, a senior adviser for human performance and survival factors at the National Transportation Safety Board, said that investigators had not seen any accidents on commercial flights in which the weight of a passenger was a problem. .
By CHRISTINE NEGRONI New York Times