Even as emergency evacuations have gotten significantly safer in recent decades, a debate continues to rage on how U.S. and other leading aviation regulators around the world certify the maximum number of passengers allowed on an airliner.
In part because full-scale evacuation tests have resulted in serious injuries, the FAA and other agencies have in some cases allowed manufacturers to substitute computer simulation and more limited tests.
U.S. regulations require that Boeing, Airbus SE and other manufacturers prove that a fully loaded plane can be evacuated within 90 seconds with half the exits blocked and in low lighting conditions.
Hudson, who has served on various FAA advisory panels in recent decades, has argued that the FAA’s requirements aren’t adequate to protect safety.
Hudson’s group initially filed a petition to FAA on Aug. 26, 2015, asking the agency to create rules on seat size and spacing. The agency turned it down on Feb. 1, 2016.
In its response to the suit, the FAA cited earlier evacuation studies on seat rows placed as close as 28 inches apart to argue existing rules were adequate to protect safety. However, the agency declined to release those studies to Flyers Rights or to the court, arguing they contained proprietary information from manufacturers.
“The problem here is that the administration has given no reasoned explanation for withholding the tests in their entirety, and it has declined to file them under seal or in redacted form,” Judge Millet said in the ruling.
If it decides to deny Flyers Rights’s petition again, “the administration must provide appropriate record support for its decision.” Millet said.
Alan Levin, Andrew Harris Michael Sasso and Mary Schlangenstein, Bloomberg