|Work on a seat at American's Oklahoma maintenance center|
"There is the misperception among the public that the things you do to protect yourself are meaningless because there's nothing you can do. That's not true," Nora Marshall of the National Transportation Safety Board told me recently when I asked her about improvements in airplane seats. "Most accidents we investigate are survivable."
Airplane seats, love 'em or hate 'em, they're doing the heavy lifting when it comes to improving survivability in all the ways airplanes can get knocked around; aborted takeoffs, runway overruns, turbulence, even those plane-to-plane collisions made famous on YouTube.
Seat safety relies on a three-legged-stool so to speak
- the seat structure
- the passenger restraints
- attachment to the aircraft
American is in the middle of a fleet renewal effort on 106 B757s that includes new seats. This leads me to wonder if the seats causing the problem last weekend are new to the B757 or if there have been previous problems with the seat to floor attachment we just haven't heard about.
|Yoshi Ozawa of Jasti with one of his products|
|The lab of airplane seat manufacturer Koito's in Numazu, Japan|
Koito is responsible for what has to be the biggest and costliest seat manufacturing scandal. Over the course of a decade, Koito falsified test data on the seats it made for Boeing and Airbus throwing into question whether the seats would in fact protect passengers as required.
More than thirty airlines were stuck with airplanes they couldn't use. Continental (now United) had seven planes waiting for seats for months at Boeing's Paine Field. You can read the story I wrote for the International Herald Tribune, here.
More recently, I reported for The New York Times, the concern of some scientists and engineers that current seat testing may not be sufficient to ensure the safety of heavier passengers. This report got folks in the industry talking, I am told. At the most recent Aircraft Interiors Expo larger passengers and what will be done to accommodate them was a subject of much discussion.
All of which is to say that the humble economy class airplane seat, subject of ill thoughts when it is thought about at all, was primed to receive more attention even even before American's 757 troubles began because a lot of thinking goes into where we put our seats - as well it should.