Good idea or bad idea? A US airline ponders installing air bags on its planes

There is an American airline company that is reportedly considering installing airbags throughout its entire fleet, according to the industry Web site Flightglobal.

The airbags would actually be mounted in seatbelts. The company that has developed the airbag, Amsafe Aviation, says it is in “serious negotiations with an airline that is thinking of doing a fleetwide retrofit because they think it is the thing to do and they want to be first.”

In reality, seatbelt-mounted airbags might soon be found in many national carriers, as they scramble to meet new requirements this fall for tougher passenger safety standards. Starting in October, new aircraft in the US must have seats capable of standing up to a 16g dynamic longitudinal acceleration in a crash and, more significantly, be specially equipped to protect against severe head injury.

That’s where the airbags come in. Most seats on a plane already meet these standards. However, certain seats — bulkheads, exit rows — do not, and carriers are likely to install these air bags in these areas on the plane in order to better comply with safety regulations.

Would airbags make a difference in a crash? If this were 10 or 20 years ago I’d probably be a cynic and say no. But there’s evidence that more people are surviving plane crashes these days, thanks to better-built planes, so airbags seem like a smart addition to limit as much as possible serious injury.