Since the announcement a couple years ago that much of the safety testing data from airline seat manufacturer Koito was falsified there has been a bit of a dance going on about what the disposition of the seats currently installed would be. Last September both the FAA and EASA (the European equivalent) released rulings on the seats, and reasonably strict timelines were set for the retirement of the seats. This week additional directives are being issued, with the FAA still taking it easy on enforcement.
The new FAA rule will apparently permit some seats that fail the new testing guidelines to remain in service for up to six years after the failure rather than the previously announced two years. The European regulators, on the other hand, are apparently considering a requirement that all Koito seats be replaced within the next 10 years, even if they pass the tests, as the historical data is considered too suspect to be reasonable for the future of the seats.
Released Wednesday, the Federal Aviation Administration’s safety directive requires additional testing to determine whether some 40,000 seats manufactured by Japan’s Koito Industries Ltd., and installed on more than 270 U.S. commercial aircraft, comply with mandatory safety standards.
In some cases, the FAA rule also gives carriers up to six years to replace seats that fail to pass, versus a strict two-year deadline the agency proposed last fall. The Continental Airlines unit of United Continental Holdings Inc. is the U.S. carrier most affected by the rule, industry officials said.
Neither of these approaches is necessarily sound – the FAA comes off as too soft and EASA as too strict – but the discrepancies between them are quite telling. Given that one airline in the USA has nearly 40,000 of the seats installed on 200+ aircraft, a directive that they can no longer fly would be potentially financially ruinous. Then again, any accident that involves seat failures will be similarly so, especially with the fact that the company knows the seats are potentially bad.
There’s not much good that will come out of this Koito debacle and certainly further delays in addressing it won’t help either. Well, it won’t help anyone but the airlines’ bottom line for not having to buy new seats. Worth the risks?