FAA orders removal of all airplane bathroom oxygen masks

Yesterday, the Federal Aviation Administration issued a directive instructing the removal of oxygen masks from every single commercial aircraft in the United States.

The reason? A “potential security threat”.

No specifics were mentioned, but apparently, the oxygen generator used in the airplane bathroom could somehow be used in terrorist attacks – and this was serious enough to order every one of them removed or disabled. The most likely scenario is that the oxygen generators would be used to create a massive fire, too fierce to be put out by current extinguishers on the plane.

Thankfully, rapid decompression events that require oxygen masks are quite rare But from now on, if you are in the lavatory during one of them, you’ll have to make your way back to your seat to get some oxygen. And remember, always fit your own mask before helping others. Houston’s KPRC got a statement from the FAA, published after the jump.

[Photo: Flickr/Danquella Manera]

FAA’s Full Statement

“The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently required the nation’s airlines to disable the oxygen generators located in all aircraft lavatories to eliminate a potential safety and security vulnerability.

The airlines completed the work on the 6,000 aircraft in the U.S. fleet on Friday, March 4.”The FAA, along with other federal agencies, identified and validated the potential threat, then devised a solution that could be completed quickly.”In order to protect the traveling public, the FAA eliminated the problem before making the work public.

Had the FAA publicized the existence of this security vulnerability prior to airlines fixing it, thousands of planes across the U.S. and the safety of passengers could have been at risk. This proactive measure will help keep travelers as safe and secure as possible.”Rapid decompression events on commercial aircraft are extremely rare. If there is a sudden loss of cabin pressure, pilots are already trained to guide the aircraft to a safe, breathable altitude as quickly as possible. Flight attendants are also already trained to assist passengers to quickly access oxygen – including those in the lavatories.”Lynn Lunsford Mid-States Communications Manager Federal Aviation Administration

Rural flight funding could end under GOP reign: House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee criticizes subsidies

A proposal discussing rural flight funding will be introduced today by House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman John Mica. It could end the $200 million federal program that subsidizes rural air service by 2013, coverage in Bloomberg states.

The proposal, part of a $59.7 billion package, is part of a funding plan for the Federal Aviation Administration. Republican lawmakers such as Mica have criticized the government subsidies of rural air services like Essential Air Service, saying that the government “can no longer afford the program at a time of high deficits.”

The program was created by Congress in 1978 to combat small airlines losing flights as a result of degregulation. Congress’ 17 temporary extensions of the current law expire on March 31 and disputes in both the House adn Senate have prevented any long-term extension, over issues ranging from how many flights from the western U.S. should be allowed into Ronald Regan National Airport to individual taxes and subsidy funding for specific states and airlines.A $34.6 billion Senate version of the bill, which protects Essential Air Service, is pending on the floor of that body. The Senate bill is two-year legislation while the House version funds the FAA for four years.

[Flickr via keithreifsnyder]

Airlines had fewer runway close calls, down 50%

The federal fiscal year just came to a close, and that means it’s time for a look-back by government agencies. Well, the FAA has some good news for us: runway near-misses fell 50 percent, registering a second consecutive year of drops. There were six serious runway incursions in fiscal year 2010, the FAA says, down from 12 in fiscal year 2009.

This represents incredible progress from 2000, in which there were a whopping 67 close calls. The move in the right direction is in part because of efforts by federal regulators and airports, reports USA Today.

Okay, let’s all breathe a sigh of relief.

[photo by as737700 via Flickr]

Cracks on American Airlines Boeing 767 planes “cause for concern”

Experts from American Airlines, the Federal Aviation Administration and Boeing are working overtime to inspect all Boeing 767 aircraft in the AA fleet.

The inspections were ordered after cracks were detected on a 767 which regulators say could have resulted in the loss of an engine.

During the past two weeks, inspectors found problems on three of the planes, promoting calls for “additional action.”

The cracks were found in engine pylons, which are the structural members that hold the engines on the wings, though none of the parties involved are going as far as to claim there is any danger.

This is not the first time Boeing planes have had issues with engine pylon structures – cracks in engine fuse pins were to blame for the 1992 El Al Boeing 747 crash in Amsterdam, killing 43 people.

According to FAA records, one of the planes found to have serious safety issues had only flown 500 trips since its last major inspection – which is prompting Boeing to recommend more regular safety inspections. At the moment, the pylons are only inspected after 1500 flights.

Of course, everyone involved is quick to point out that the safety concerns are not the result of missed or botched inspections. American Airlines says it expects to finish all inspections of its 56 Boeing 767s today.

If the FAA does alter current safety inspection rules, about 360 Boeing 767s will have to be inspected in the United States, along with hundreds more in use abroad.

[Image from: Flickr/Deanster 1983]

American Airlines is being watched by the FAA

Three strikes have led to increased federal attention for American Airlines. The last month hasn’t been kind to the airline. In two instances, planes bumped wingtips with during landings in Charlotte, North Carolina and Austin, Texas and another overshot the runway in Jamaica. The FAA released a statement on Friday indicating that it would review these situations in case they’re symptoms of a larger problem. American Airlines, of course, is cooperating with the FAA in this matter.

And, this comes on top of the airline’s customer service debacle, in which a flight attendant threw a nutter over a passenger’s request for orange juice (still no word on whether disciplinary action or litigation has occurred).

This doesn’t change my perspective on American as the one to beat in 2010. A little extra FAA scrutiny doesn’t change much, and if the airline comes out the other end with no problems – and, better, resolutions – this extra look will soon be forgotten.