Ever since news came out that airline seat manufacturer Koito had been falsifying safety data for their products the industry has been waiting to learn the fate of the roughly 150,000 seats currently installed worldwide. Certainly if the seats are not up to spec they’ll need to be replaced, but just how quickly and who will be most affected?
Both the European and American certifying organizations (EASA and FAA, respectively) have released directives to all airlines detailing the next steps that must be taken by airlines currently operating with Koito seats in production. While the directives certainly pull no punches on the issue the EASA report is particularly damning:
The Japanese airworthiness authority JCAB has informed EASA that a review of the safety of passenger seats manufactured by Koito industries has disclosed discrepancies which include falsification of static, dynamic and flammability testing, as well as uncontrolled changes to production data (material and dimensional).
In addition JCAB confirmed that Koito records, showing evidence of falsification, could not be deemed complete. Examples include: fictitious dynamic test pulse plots inserted into test reports following failure to meet required certification requirements; flammability test coupons not representative of production parts, for instance by use of alternative adhesive not specified on the approved drawing; and fictitious deformation values entered in test reports when values exceeded the maximum allowed.
Based on these findings the EASA will require that all Koito seats be removed from aircraft within two years unless the airline is willing to pursue a new certification process for the seats in question. Any such plan must be first approved by EASA before going into effect.
The FAA is not taking quite as hard a line on the issue. Rather than requiring the replacement or recertification of the seats, the FAA will permit airlines to demonstrate only partial compliance in order to keep the seats currently flying legal. The FAA will also permit spares to be installed in a like for like manner where the seats are today.
So why did the FAA take a softer stance on the issue? Is it possibly because roughly 30% of the Koito install base is centered in a single company that is based in the United States, Continental? Is it because someone in Washington decided that they don’t really need to enforce all the rules so long as some of them are followed? The only comment offered up by an FAA spokesperson was this non-answer:
Clearly the FAA doesn’t operate in a vacuum, but that said what we have to do is look at the safety impact and the safety issue and the proposed solution based on our environment, not the environment that exists in Europe.
Apparently a plane crashing in Europe does so in a manner that is sufficiently different from a plane crashing in the United States such that the seats can be subject to different rules. It is certainly understandable that the two bodies might have small variations in their policies but when the FAA chooses to only partially enforce their own rules – “[T]his proposed AD will not require full compliance with every applicable regulation…” – that certainly raises other questions.
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