FAA’s Process for Updating Its Aircraft Evacuation Standards Lacks Data Collection and Analysis on Current Evacuation Risks
What We Looked At
Effective evacuations of aircraft during emergencies can help save lives. Two aircraft accidents involving evacuations—one in September 2015 involving a British Airways aircraft and another in October 2016 involving an American Airlines aircraft—resulted in no fatalities, and highlighted the importance of effective aircraft evacuation standards. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations require that aircraft manufacturers demonstrate that all passengers and crew can evacuate an aircraft within 90 seconds by conducting live demonstrations of simulated evacuations or through a combination of analyses and testing. Our audit objective was to assess FAA’s process for developing and updating aircraft emergency evacuation standards, including how changes in passenger behavior, passenger demographics, and seating capacity affect the standards.
What We Found
FAA’s process for updating its evacuation standards lacks data collection and analysis on current risks. FAA largely updates evacuation standards only after accidents and it conducted its last update based on an accident in 1991. FAA also has not conducted sufficient research on passenger behaviors—such as evacuations with carry-on bags and the presence of emotional support animals—and seat dimensions to show how they affect evacuation standards. Furthermore, FAA does not collect comprehensive evacuation data to identify needs for regulation updates, and allows manufacturers to use decade-old data in evacuation analyses. FAA’s Safety Management System requires FAA programs to collect and analyze comprehensive data using systematic procedures and policies for the management of safety risk. However, FAA has not established a systematic process to obtain and evaluate data from accidents and demonstrations. As a result, FAA is inhibiting its ability to identify current evacuation risks and updates to its aircraft emergency evacuation standards.
We made two recommendations to help FAA improve its data collection and analysis for developing and updating aircraft emergency evacuation standards. FAA concurred with both recommendations.