The Department of Transportation's Office of the Inspector
General (OIG) has begun an audit into the FAA's oversight of aircraft
As part of the audit, the OIG will look at whether the
denser configurations of seats that carriers have installed on aircraft over
the past decade are affecting evacuation times.
The audit comes at the request of Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.),
who is the ranking member of the House transportation committee, as well as
Rick Larsen (D-Wash.), the top Democrat on the House aviation subcommittee.
Under FAA rules, aircraft must be able to be evacuated in 90
seconds or less. The OIG said those standards have not been significantly
updated since 1990.
"Significant changes in the industry and consumer
behavior have occurred since 1990," the OIG wrote in a press release. "For
example, the number of aircraft seats and passengers have increased but seat
size and distance between seats -- known as seat pitch -- has decreased.
Passengers' reliance on carry-on luggage has also increased."
The OIG report began 10 and a half months after a federal
appeals court ordered the FAA to review seat sizes and the distance between
rows on commercial aircraft.
The FAA asserts that the interior configurations currently
used by airlines have passed the required safety and certification tests. But
the court objected to the FAA practice of not releasing those tests in order to
protect the proprietary information of manufacturers.
The FAA did not immediately respond to an inquiry late
Wednesday afternoon about whether it had taken any action pursuant to that July
2017 court ruling.
Pressure on regulatory agencies to begin governing aircraft
interior configurations could also be coming from Congress. The House version
of this year's FAA reauthorization bill, which passed out of the chamber in
April, would direct the FAA to set minimum standards for seat pitch and width
within a year. The Senate has not yet passed a companion FAA reauthorization
The OIG said it would assess the FAA's development and
updating of aircraft emergency evacuation standards, as well as its process for
determining whether aircraft, as currently configured, meet evacuation