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The Hill: 'House lawmakers renew fight over shrinking airplane seats'

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Washington, June 30, 2016 | comments

Two House lawmakers are renewing their calls to stop commercial airlines from shrinking the size of plane seats as committee leaders negotiate final details on a short-term reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), are pushing to attach a provision to an FAA bill that would direct the agency to develop minimum standards for seat sizes and distances between rows on commercial flights.

The duo touted a letter from former National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Jim Hall, who announced his support for their legislation in a letter to Transportation Committee members Wednesday.

“I feel it is imperative that the FAA re-evaluate its standards for emergency evacuations” in light of smaller airline seat sizes, Hall wrote.

Cohen and Kinzinger have argued that shrinking seat sizes are a potential safety risk. Their bill requires the FAA to develop the standards based on the safety and health of passengers.

The average distance between seat rows has gone from 35 inches before airline deregulation in the 1970s to about 31 inches today, while the average width of an airline seat has dropped from 18 inches to about 16.5, according to a press release from the lawmakers’ offices.

Committee leaders in the House and Senate are wrapping up the final details on an 18-month extension of the FAA that is expected include a handful of policy provisions related to aviation security, drones and consumer protections.

But efforts to include amendments on airplane seat sizes were rejected in the Senate, and they are unlikely to appear in the short-term patch either.

“With the deadline to reauthorize the FAA quickly approaching, I hope my colleagues will support this effort and ensure passengers have the space needed to evacuate a plane in case of emergencies,” Kinzinger said.

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