Airbags on planes are not new. Seatbelts have had them to protect passengers in case of a crash, but for at least some seats on the 777X Boeing intends to change the setup a bit. Rather than mounting them on the seatbelts the airbags will be mounted on structures in the cabin. The Federal Aviation Administration is now soliciting feedback on this new design as it considers the type certification for the 777-9.
From the Federal Register notice of the plans:
The structure-mounted airbag, similar to the inflatable lap belt, is designed to limit occupant forward excursion in the event of an emergency landing. These airbags will reduce the potential for serious injury, including reducing the head-injury criterion measurement defined in part 25. However, structure-mounted airbags function similarly as automotive airbags, where the airbag deploys from furniture located in front of the passenger, relative to the airplane’s direction of flight, forming a barrier between the structure and occupant. Also, unlike the inflatable lap belt, the structure-mounted airbag does not move with the occupant. To account for out-of-position and brace-position occupants, the airbag is designed to conform to the curvature of the exposed structure in the head-strike zone.
The airbag is needed to help ensure passenger safety in the event of a crash. Specifically, aircraft are generally designed such that the passenger’s head strikes the seat in front of them quickly enough to reduce whiplash effects. With seats spaced further apart or in a premium cabin the airbag provides that impact surface. This typically results in the more comfortable seats requiring a rather uncomfortable airbag module to be installed on the seatbelt.
Wirth the evolution of seat designs and the newer aircraft, however, the option to include the airbag in the structure rather than on the seatbelt is a winning combination for all parties.
A similar approval was granted for the B/E Aerospace (now part of Collins Aerospace) Super-Diamond seat on the 787-9. While not explicitly stated, it is a safe assumption that the same seat is driving the request on the 777X.
The public is invited to comment on this novel design concept through 8 September 2020. Further details can be found at http://www.regulations.gov/ under docket number FAA–2019–1055.
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