Research reveals lap seat-belts alone increase injury risk.

Key Points:

  • The FAA reveals potential serious injuries from "excessive body flail" in certain seat configurations.

  • Medical research demonstrated the extent of injuries from lap seat belts during emergency landing scenarios.

  • The FAA pushes for the adoption of improved safety features like airbags and shoulder harnesses.

WASHINGTON D.C. — In light of recent findings, the FAA is emphasizing the need for enhanced passenger restraints for front-row seating. Studies have shown that in emergency landings, solely relying on lap seat-belts may lead to severe injuries. The current FAA guidance allows for seats to be positioned away from cabin walls and monuments, letting passengers experience forward movement during accidents. Such seat configurations result in the "excessive body flail" phenomenon, causing significant spinal and other injuries.

A comprehensive investigation carried out by the Medical College of Wisconsin in 2016 revealed that the damage mechanics of traditional lap belts were not entirely grasped in the past. Testing with post-mortem human surrogates, the college found severe injuries when these were subjected to emergency landing forces. Injuries ranged from spinal cord damage, multiple rib fractures, to femur breaks, which were possibly caused when the lap belt slipped beneath the pelvis.

The FAA, referencing accidents like the Turkish Airlines Boeing 737-800 crash in Amsterdam and the Asiana 777-200ER crash in San Francisco both in 2009, highlighted that passengers with unrestrained movement experienced spinal injuries. In contrast, those with back support from seatbacks were unaffected. This discrepancy has prompted the FAA to reconsider their stance on current seat configurations, especially those only using lap belts. To prevent severe injuries during emergency landings, the FAA is updating its guidelines. These new directives would necessitate supporting passengers' upper bodies with added safety mechanisms.

As the aviation community awaits the release of the new regulations, the FAA is ardently encouraging airlines to voluntarily integrate safety augmentations like shoulder harnesses and airbags.