More than 30 years after the US Department of Transportation required airlines to provide accessible lavatories on twin-aisle planes the agency might finally be ready to mandate similar on single-aisle aircraft. But even if the new rules take effect, the impact will not be felt for a long, long time.
The new Notice of Proposed Rule Making would “require airlines to ensure that at least one lavatory on new single-aisle aircraft with 125 or more passenger seats is large enough to permit a passenger with a disability (with the help of an assistant, if necessary) to approach, enter, and maneuver within the aircraft lavatory, as necessary, to use all lavatory facilities and leave by means of the aircraft’s on-board wheelchair.”
While the 1990 Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) mandated the larger lavatories on larger planes, it stopped short of requiring the same for smaller aircraft. At the time airlines presented “cost and feasibility concerns” that were deemed worthy of “serious consideration.” Which is to say that the airlines won. Today fewer than 4% of single-aisle planes in the US offer an accessible lavatory.
It comes with a cost
And, as always, the decision comes down to dollars. Airlines say that offering accessible lavatories will require the removal of three seats on board. Over the next 25 years the industry projects a $33.3 billion impact as a result of not having those seats to sell.
Separate analysis suggests that from the passenger perspective the impact could be $2.22 per domestic ticket by 2066, or $9.13 per international ticket.
An absurd timeline
The timing of that impact is also notable. Airlines and aircraft manufacturers insisted that the requirement could only take effect for planes ordered 18 years after new rules are established. Which is to say it will very much be someone else’s problem by the time it comes to pass.
The DOT acknowledges this timing challenge, in its most proper phrasing:
The Department has concerns that the considerable length of time that this NPRM proposes to allow for much-needed accessibility improvements may not advance equity, civil rights or equal opportunity for persons with disabilities quickly enough.
Still, getting past this timeline will prove challenging. The DOT does note that the 18-year horizon was first mooted in 2016, implying that at least 6 years could be shaved off.
Read More: Wheelchair accessibility regulations to be updated with Department of Transportation proposal
Of course, airlines and manufacturers are likely to balk, implying that no progress was made on these efforts while awaiting the rules. That would be a lie, given the range of options now available to airlines, many advanced during this time. But anything that limits seats for sale on board will face protests from the businesses.
Much like other accessibility requirements, the DOT acknowledges that larger lavatories on planes will bring value to the rest of the traveling public as well.
Read More: New lavs coming to the 737
Noting that newer on-board toilets are as small as 24″ wide, the Department suggests “The extra space of accessible lavatories would not only relieve discomfort, but would also allow people to perform tasks that might not be possible otherwise, such as changing a child’s diaper or assisting a child using the toilet.”
Full text of the proposed requirements is contained below; original docket is here
14 CFR 382.64. What are the requirements for large accessible lavatories on single-aisle aircraft?
(a) As a carrier, you must ensure that all new single-aisle aircraft that you operate with an FAA-certificated maximum seating capacity of 125 seats or more in which lavatories are provided, shall include at least one lavatory of sufficient size to:
1. Permit a qualified individual with a disability equivalent in size to a 95th percentile male to approach, enter, maneuver within as necessary to use all lavatory facilities, and leave, by means of the aircraft’s on-board wheelchair, in a closed space that affords privacy equivalent to that afforded to ambulatory users; and
2. Permit an assistant equivalent in size to a 95th percentile male to assist a qualified individual with a disability, including assisting in transfers between the toilet and the aircraft’s on-board wheelchair, within a closed space that affords privacy equivalent to that afforded to ambulatory users.
(b) The lavatory required in paragraph (a) shall include the following features:
1. Grab bars must be provided and positioned as required to meet the needs of individuals with disabilities.
2. Lavatory faucets must have controls with tactile information concerning temperature. Alternatively, carriers may comply with this requirement by ensuring that lavatory water temperature is adjusted to eliminate the risk of scalding for all passengers. Automatic or hand-operated faucets shall dispense water for a minimum of five seconds for each application or while the hand is below the faucet.
3. Attendant call buttons and door locks must be accessible to an individual seated within the lavatory.
4. Lavatory controls and dispensers must be discernible through the sense of touch. Operable parts within the lavatory must be operable with one hand and must not require tight grasping, pinching, or twisting of the wrist.
5. The lavatory door sill must provide minimum obstruction to the passage of the on-board wheelchair across the sill while preventing the leakage of fluids from the lavatory floor and trip hazards during an emergency evacuation.
6. Toe clearance must not be reduced from current measurements.
(c) You are not required to retrofit cabin interiors of existing single-aisle aircraft to comply with the requirements of paragraph (a) of this section.
(d) As a carrier, you must comply with the requirements of this section with respect to new aircraft that you operate that were originally ordered after [INSERT DATE 18 YEARS AFTER THE EFFECTIVE DATE OF THE FINAL RULE] or delivered after [INSERT DATE 20 YEARS AFTER THE EFFECTIVE DATE OF THE FINAL RULE] or are part of a new type-certificated design filed with the FAA or a foreign carrier’s safety authority after [INSERT DATE ONE YEAR AFTER THE EFFECTIVE DATE OF THE FINAL RULE].
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