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Fri, May 11, 2012

Air Safety Fears Over Expanding Waistlines

Experts Concerned About Increasing Passenger Weight

Scientists that study aviation accidents say that overweight passengers can “blast through” seat belts in a plane crash due to outdated safety standards. The New York Times reports that aircraft engineers are still designing seats for passengers weighing 170 pounds, in line with international standards. This is concerning to U.S. experts where the average American man is now 194 pounds and woman 165 pounds. A spokesman from the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority confirmed that seats were tested in his country with 170 pound dummies.

Robert Salzar, principal scientist at the University of Virginia Center for Applied Biomechanics told the Times that airline seats were not likely to behave as expected during a crash if a heavier person completely fills a seat. “The energy absorption that is built into the aircraft seat is likely to be overwhelmed and the occupants will not be protected optimally,” Dr Salzar said. He added seat belts needed more testing as “you’d be amazed at how the large person blasts through that restraint”.

The solution, according to Yoshihiro Ozawa from Jasti Ltd (a crash dummy manufacturer) is to test with more weight. “If we don’t test with heavier dummies, we won’t know if it is safe enough. There is no regulation that says they have to test for heavier” he said. Larger passengers, he said, could also injure those sitting nearby if seats collapse or belts fail.

The CASA spokesman said although the test weight had been fixed for many years, it did not mean standards were out of date or had not been improved.



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