Why, After All this Time, Is the FAA Just Now Taking Steps to Mandate Child Restraint Systems on Aircraft?

Suzanne E. Thompson, Why, After All this Time, Is the FAA Just Now Taking Steps to Mandate Child Restraint Systems on Aircraft?, 37 Gonz. L. Rev. 533 (2002).

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The Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) and the National Transportation Safety Board (“NTSB”) have been polar opposites for twenty-three years regarding the protection of children under the age of two on aircraft. Currently, children under the age of two are not required to be ticket holders and as such are unrestrained on aircraft. Over the last twenty-three years, there have been many documented instances where unrestrained children have been severely or mortally injured in turbulent conditions or survivable crash landings. Since 1979, the NTSB has advocated that these young travelers be protected by restraint systems while flying. The FAA, who has the power to offer the protection, has refused to mandate such a provision. However, in the last few years, the FAA has been showing a tendency toward succumbing to the pressures of the NTSB and seems willing to extend protection to all airline passengers, regardless of age.

This Comment first explores the key players in this “battle for the seats.” It then gives a historical overview of the use of child restraints in motor vehicles and aircraft and why some key players are so adamantly for and others so adamantly against mandating child restraint systems. There will follow a brief exploration examining the mandates that govern or have governed children under the age of two as passengers on airplanes. This Comment then establishes why the NTSB advocates mandating child safety seats on aircraft and identifies two powerhouses that fueled the fire and drove the FAA to comply with child restraint recommendations. A summary of the FAA’s responses to these pressures and a detailed analysis of the tactics that forced the FAA to do what the NTSB had been recommending for decades will ensue. Finally, this Comment will conclude with policy implications and future ramifications that will likely occur secondary to the mandate of child restraint systems on aircraft. Even if the mandate “only” saves five infants and toddlers each year, like the FAA claims, this regulation, once adopted, will be unequivocally worthwhile in protecting infants and children on aircraft. . . . Read More

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