Aviation Safety:

Slow Progress in Making Aircraft Cabin Interiors Fireproof

RCED-93-37: Published: Jan 6, 1993. Publicly Released: Feb 8, 1993.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) transport airplane interior cabin flammability standards, focusing on the: (1) number of U.S. aircraft that meet or are expected to meet FAA flammability standards by 1999; (2) estimated cost for all aircraft to meet the standards; and (3) safety benefits of meeting the standards.

GAO found that: (1) FAA expected that by 2000, 85 percent of the airlines' fleets would be in compliance with flammability standards; (2) by 1992, 470 of the 4,200 aircraft were in compliance with FAA standards; (3) because airlines lacked plans to retrofit existing in-service aircraft, the entire airline fleet is not expected to meet flammability standards until 2018; (4) the proportion of aircraft meeting FAA standards is expected to increase as older aircraft are replaced with newer aircraft; (5) airlines are more likely to refurbish and reinstall original cabin component parts, rather than replacing them with parts meeting FAA flammability standards, during mandatory heavy maintenance inspections; (6) the estimated total cost for replacing existing aircraft cabin interiors would decrease annually from about $3.8 billion in 1994 to $2.5 billion in 1999 because of increased replacement of older aircraft; and (7) if all aircraft are refitted to meet the FAA flammability standards, between 75 and 100 fatalities could be avoided and up to $80 million to $110 million could be saved by 2018, depending upon the severity of the accident and the average value placed on a human life.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: This recommendation is no longer applicable because prior to the issuance of the GAO report in January 1993, FAA had completed--in July 1992--a reassessment of whether to issue a regulatory requirement mandating a specific date for all aircraft in the fleet to comply with the latest flammability standards for cabin interiors, as GAO had suggested. The FAA reassessment determined the change was not cost-effective due to the estimated cost of about $3 billion for the 100 potential fatalities over the next 15 years. As a result, FAA determined that its existing requirements provided an appropriate course of action and no further reassessment was necessary at the time.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to reassess whether to issue a regulatory requirement mandating a specific date for all aircraft date for all aircraft in the fleet to comply with the latest flammability standards for cabin interiors. Such a reassessment should compare the cost-effectiveness of retrofitting aircraft to meet the standards with other actions that could improve the overall safety of the U.S. aircraft fleet.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

 

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