May 09, 2024

Duckworth-Baldwin Provision to Help Improve Aircraft Evacuation Standards Included in Senate-passed FAA Reauthorization Act


[WASHINGTON, DC] – U.S. Senator and pilot Tammy Duckworth (D-IL)—a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation (CST) and Chair of the Subcommittee on Aviation Safety, Operations and Innovation—and U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) highlighted that their Emergency Vacating of Aircraft Cabin (EVAC) Act was successfully included in the bipartisan Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act of 2024 that passed the Senate today. Currently, the FAA’s emergency evacuation standards require that passengers—regardless of age or ability—be able to evacuate aircraft within 90 seconds, but recent in-person simulation testing failed to adequately take into account whether a flight is full or mostly empty, or other basic conditions Americans deal with every time they fly. The Duckworth-Baldwin EVAC Act would help ensure the FAA does more to prioritize passenger safety by finally updating its emergency evacuation standards for aircraft to reflect real-world conditions, including the presence of carry-on bags and passengers who may be senior citizens, children or persons with disabilities.

“By including my EVAC Act in the bipartisan FAA Reauthorization bill that passed the Senate today, we’re sending a clear message that the safety of the flying public comes first,” said Senator Duckworth. “It should not—and it must not—take another tragedy to bring our aircraft evacuation standards up to date. I’m proud to have worked with Senator Baldwin to help establish an emergency evacuation standard that considers real-life conditions to make flying safer for all and I hope the House sends it to the President as soon as possible.”

“Every American deserves to know that their safety and the safety of their loved ones is a top priority when they are flying,” said Senator Baldwin. “Today, we take a step closer to ensuring that when Wisconsinites board a plane, they can be confident real life circumstances—like heavy luggage and passengers with disabilities—are considered to ensure everyone’s safety in the event of an emergency.”

Following a 2016 emergency evacuation of an American Airlines 767 at O’Hare, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommended that the FAA conduct further study on the risk posed by carry-on bags during emergency evacuations. Earlier this year, the emergency evacuation of Japan Airlines Flight 516 in Tokyo following a collision with a Japanese Coast Guard plane—which took roughly 5 minutes to complete—revived long-standing questions about the reliability of in-person evacuation testing in the U.S. and underscored the need to ensure FAA’s emergency evacuation standard is rooted in reality.

The EVAC Act included in the Senate-passed FAA reauthorization bill would require modernization and improvements to aircraft evacuation standards by requiring the FAA to conduct a comprehensive study on aircraft evacuation and empanel a committee of experts and stakeholders—including representatives of the disability community, senior citizens and pediatricians—to evaluate gaps in current evacuation standards and operating procedures and make recommendations. Additionally, the FAA must initiate a rulemaking on any recommendations the FAA Administrator deems appropriate. The FAA would also be required to report study findings, committee recommendations and the Administrator’s plan to implement any such recommendations.

The FAA study on evacuations would include:

  • Prospective risk analysis, not just evaluation of past incidents.
  • Recommendations for how to improve evacuation regulations and demonstrations to ensure they account for passengers with disabilities, including those who use wheelchairs or other mobility assistive devices.
  • Research on risk posed by carry-on bags recommended by NTSB.
  • Whether each new generation of aircraft should be required to undergo full-scale in-person evacuation testing.
  • An assessment of the following evacuation conditions:
    1. Presence of passengers of different ages, including infants, children and senior citizens;
    2. Presence of passengers with disabilities;
    3. Presence of passengers who have difficulty speaking or are non-verbal;
    4. Presence of passengers who do not speak English;
    5. Presence of carry-on luggage and personal items such as a purse, briefcase or backpack
    6. Seat size and spacing;
    7. Passenger load; and
    8. Presence of service animals.

A bill summary can be found using the link here.