Federal Aviation Administration safety standards have deteriorated so much over the past few years that they pose a threat to the lives of both airline passengers and crews, representatives of flight attendants' unions told a congressional subcommittee today.
The House government activities and transportation subcommittee was told by officials of three attendants' unions that FAA regulations on emergency evacuation procedures, ozone exposure levels and flight crew fatigue are inadequate.
The union officials charged that FAA efforts to protect the financial health of the airline industry, coupled with moves toward government deregulation, have led to compromising costly public safety procedures.
One of the most serious issues, according to the unions, is laxity in enforcement of FAA requirements that airlines and aircraft manufacturers demonstrate they can evacuate passengers of an aircraft within 90 seconds of a simulated crash.
Patricia R. Miller, president of the 22,000-member Association of Flight Attendants, said the aircraft industry used specially trained flight personnel who often rehearsed for days ahead of time in order to pass the mock emergency evacuation required by the FAA. Moreover, the "passengers" used in the tests often include no elderly people or children who might be present in a real evacuation.
"The airlines and the FAA are making a mockery" of the evacuation test, Miller said. It is a "totally unrealistic representation of a real evacuation."
Miller cited one instance where United Airlines allegedly failed twice to evacuate a DC8 in the required time, and managed to pass the FAA test only after substituting an all-male flight crew in its third effort.
The flight attendants concerns were echoed by representatives of the Independent Union of Flight Attendants and the Independent Federation of Flight Attendents.
Another concern, the effect of ozone exposure at high altitude, was cited by Dr. Dwayne Reed, head of environment epidemiology at the California Health Services Department. Reed pointed to studies showing that ozone exposure for people on some transcontinental flights was six times the maximum allowable safety level, and charged that on many flights involving the Boeing 747 SB aircraft the ozone level was "extremely toxic to human beings."
Reed presented the committee with results of the study showing that symptoms of severe ozone exposure, including shortness of breath, chest pains and severe coughing, occurred two to three times as often during high altitude transcontinental flights as on shorter commuter runs.