A Daily news digest by Jasper van Santen

Scientists Ask, ‘Are Airplanes Safe for Overweight Passengers?’ – NYTimes.com

In Nonsense on May 7, 2012 at 22:42

via Scientists Ask, ‘Are Airplanes Safe for Overweight Passengers?’ 

First the Washington State Ferries… Now airplanes. Next on the list… mark my words… CARS. :-)

More than six decades ago, when the federal standards on the strength of airplane seats and seat belts were written, government regulations specified that seats be designed for a passenger weight of 170 pounds. But now the average American man weighs nearly 194 pounds and the average woman 165.

Now, some engineers and scientists have raised questions about whether airplane seats, tested with crash dummies that reflect the 170-pound rule, 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 Biomechanics 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.”

Nor would the injury necessarily be confined to that passenger, Dr. Salzar said. If seats collapse or belts fail, he said, those seated nearby could be endangered from “the unrestrained motion of the passenger.”

Yoshihiro Ozawa, an engineer whose company, Jasti Ltd. in Japan, has been making crash dummies for 20 years, raised similar concerns. He said he worried that there was no data proving that “seats and seat belts are safe enough” for larger passengers.

“If we don’t test with heavier dummies, we won’t know if it is safe enough,” Mr. Ozawa said by telephone, through an interpreter. “There is no regulation that says they have to test for heavier.”

Executives with two American airline-seat manufacturers declined to comment on the issue. Dede Potter, a spokeswoman for one of those manufacturers, B/E Aerospace, said only, “We comply with all industry regulations.”

In 2005, the F.A.A. 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 calculation; it is higher in the winter when travelers 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.”

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