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Audit Initiated of FAA’s Oversight of Aircraft Evacuation Procedures

Requested by the Ranking Members of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and its Subcommittee on Aviation
Project ID: 

The effective evacuation of civil aircraft is a critical component of saving lives in the event of an aviation incident. The Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) standards for evacuating passenger aircraft require that the aircraft can be fully evacuated in 90 seconds or less. To obtain FAA certification for a specific aircraft type, manufacturers must conduct actual demonstrations of emergency evacuations or a combination of tests and analyses, including computer simulations, that yield equivalent results. Stakeholders have raised concerns about the validity of the assumptions that drive FAA’s evacuation standards—and industry tests and simulations for certifying new aircraft—given that the standards have not been significantly updated since 1990.  Significant changes in the industry and consumer behavior have occurred since 1990. 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.

In October 2016, American Airlines had to evacuate an aircraft due to an engine fire. Citing this incident, and the possibility of further reductions in seat pitch and increases in numbers of seats in commercial airliners, the Ranking Member of the House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Aviation have requested that we examine FAA’s evacuation standards and whether passengers can safely evacuate aircraft in emergencies within the required 90 seconds given these changes in the airline industry and consumer behavior. 

Accordingly, our audit objectives will be to assess FAA’s (1) development and updating of  aircraft emergency evacuation standards—including how changes in passenger behavior, passenger demographics, and seating capacity—affect the standards and (2) process for determining whether aircraft as currently configured meet evacuation standards.