Putting Air Bags in the Air

With tougher safety standards for airplane cabins looming on the horizon, the aviation industry is turning to a tried-and-true technology from the family car: air bags, the Wall Street Journal reports. Built into specially equipped seatbelts, these air bags explode outward in the event of a sudden impact. They are approved for use by children as young as 2 years old. The air bags, which are already used in thousands of small planes, aren't intended for use on every seat on a jetliner. They're designed for seats in which passengers are at the greatest risk during a survivable crash—the small percentage of seats nearest potentially hazardous obstructions or those that turn into lie-flat beds and are angled to face aisles. The impetus for air bags comes from research that determined that in many airline crashes, the actual impact was survivable. After more than 15 years of debate and resistance from airlines, the Federal Aviation Administration ruled that by November 2009 certain seats on existing airliners must be upgraded and all new planes must be equipped with more crash-resistant seats throughout. Those regulations include the toughened safety requirements for angled seats and those near obstructions. According to previous FAA-sponsored research, stronger seats and better restraints could have averted 45 fatalities and 40 serious injuries of airline passengers between 1984 and 1998.