Seat maker Koito's deception results in FAA airworthiness directive

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Despite receiving numerous objections from multiple parties the US FAA has issued a new airworthiness directive for aircraft seats made by embattled Japanese manufacturer Koito Industries, which falsified test data on some 150,000 seats in the world fleet.

The AD, which is expected to have a wide-reaching impact on the industry, requires airlines to determine if affected seats and seating systems are compliant with certain FAA regulations and remove seats shown to be unsafe. The FAA has outlined compliance time requirements ranging from two years to six years for various portions of the AD.

"This AD was prompted by a determination that the affected seats and seating systems may not meet certain flammability, static strength, and dynamic strength criteria. Failure to meet static and dynamic strength criteria could result in injuries to the flight crew and passengers during emergency landing conditions," said the FAA in its AD.

"In the event of an in-flight or post-emergency landing fire, failure to meet flammability criteria could result in an accelerated fire. We are issuing this AD to prevent accelerated fires and injuries to the flight crew and passengers."

In September 2010 the FAA issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) to address the unsafe condition, and gave the public the opportunity to participate in developing the AD.

"Several commenters either inferred or specifically requested that we withdraw the NPRM," revealed the FAA.

The Association of European Airlines (AEA), for instance, said that Koito - witnessed by the Japan Civil Aviation Bureau (JCAB) - has carried out extensive retesting of the seats to prove they are safe and meet all of the certification criteria, and concluded that these data have not been evaluated by the FAA, which could negate the issuance of an AD.

The Association for Asia Pacific Airlines (AAPA), China Airlines, and Japan Transocean Airlines (JTA), meanwhile, stated that the evaluation and use of JCAB data could negate the justification for the NPRM, according to the FAA.

For its part, Koito "respectfully questioned the basis for the NPRM moving forward, absent FAA verification and support that an unsafe condition exists. Koito stated it deeply regrets the circumstances surrounding this AD. Koito submitted that no actual unsafe condition has been verified even for production seats where discrepancies existed between drawings and materials used to show compliance."

But the FAA is holding its ground. "We do not agree to withdraw the NPRM," it said. "It is a fact that some seats have failed during testing. Failure of the seat, in combination with an emergency landing, is considered catastrophic."

The FAA has also denied multiple requests to delay its AD, which is effective 60 days after publication in the federal register.

"To delay this action would be inappropriate, since we have determined that an unsafe condition exists and that the actions required by this AD must be conducted to ensure continued safety. Failure of the seat in combination with an emergency landing is considered catastrophic," explained the FAA.

Some 278 US aircraft operated by Continental Airlines carry Koito seats. The FAA estimates "a cost for the US fleet of $875,000" for implementing the AD.

However, the cost to non-US carriers of compliance could be staggering. "AEA stated that there are significant impacts and costs involved: hundreds of million of dollars in retrofitting seats including months - possibly years - of ground time if seats cannot be sourced. Koito stated that the NPRM not only underestimates the cost of the proposed AD, but in some cases acknowledges that the cost cannot be determined," said the FAA.

"Koito noted that the FAA did not appear to consider the replacement costs for seats, seating systems, and their components that are found to be non-compliant. Koito stated that the FAA should not ignore the costs of replacing seats, seating systems, and their components that are found to be non-compliant," added the FAA.

However, the FAA has opted not to revise the cost of compliance section of its AD.

"We do recognise this AD could affect the non-US-registered fleet if mandated by airworthiness authorities of other countries. However, this AD does not directly impact non-US operators and, therefore, the cost review is not required for the non-US-registered fleet."