The National Transportation Safety Board has adopted a study confirming the safety benefits of shoulder harnesses in general aviation accidents and concluding that airbags can provide additional protection for occupants of such aircraft.
Everyone is familiar with airbags in cars, where they have been mandatory for more than a decade, but the general public may not be aware that airbags are also used in airplanes. Airbags were first approved for use in the pilot and co-pilot seats in general aviation aircraft in 2003, and now more than 7,000 general aviation aircraft in the United States currently have airbags. The airbags are designed to mitigate head and upper body injuries, and this study provides evidence that they are effective.
The study also confirmed that shoulder harnesses provide better protection than lap belts alone. Based on an analysis of over 37,000 accidents, the NTSB concluded that the risk of fatal or serious injury was 50 percent higher when an occupant was only restrained by a lap belt as compared to the combination lap belt and shoulder harness. "The simplest and cheapest improvement to the safety of general aviation aircraft occupants is the mandatory installation of shoulder harnesses," said NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman.
The Board recommended measures to the FAA intended to increase the use of shoulder harnesses and airbags in general aviation aircraft. This is good news for pilots of general aviation aircraft and their passengers. After investigating aviation accidents for over two decades, one thing our aviation accident attorneys have learned is that even when things go wrong and a plane crashes, occupants can and have survived in some cases. If the NTSB's recommendations to expand the use of restraint systems in general aviation aircraft are acted upon by the FAA and the aviation industry, we can expect even more crashes to be survivable in the future. However, it is still up to the FAA and aviation industry to act.
The complete safety study will be available on the NTSB website in several weeks.
Source: National Transportation Safety Board Press Release - "NTSB Study Shows That Airbargs Can Provide Occupant Protection in General Aviation Accidents," January 11, 2011