FAA Orders Airlines Disable Bathroom Oxygen Generators On Aircraft


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FAA Orders Airlines Disable Bathroom Oxygen Generators On Aircraft

By Daniel Baxter

March 12, 2011 - The U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently required the nation's airlines to disable the oxygen generators located in all aircraft lavatories to eliminate a potential safety and security vulnerability. The airlines completed the work on the 6,000 aircraft in the U.S. fleet on Friday March 4. 

The FAA, along with other federal agencies, identified and validated the potential threat, then devised a solution that could be completed quickly. 

In order to protect the traveling public, the FAA eliminated the problem before making the work public. Had the FAA publicized the existence of this security vulnerability prior to airlines fixing it, thousands of planes across the U.S. and the safety of passengers could have been at risk. This proactive measure will help keep travelers as safe and secure as possible. 

Rapid decompression events on commercial aircraft are extremely rare. If there is a sudden loss of cabin pressure, pilots are already trained to guide the aircraft to a safe, breathable altitude as quickly as possible. Flight attendants are also already trained to assist passengers to quickly access oxygen - including those in the lavatories.

Above the passenger seats are Passenger Service Units (PSU). These typically contain reading lights, air vents, and a flight attendant call light. The PSU will also normally contain the drop-down oxygen masks which are activated if there is a sudden drop in cabin pressure.

These are supplied with oxygen by means of a chemical oxygen generator. By using a chemical reaction rather than a connection to an oxygen tank, these devices supply breathing oxygen for long enough for the airliner to descend to thicker, more breathable air.  

Oxygen generators do generate considerable heat in the process. Because of this, the oxygen generators are thermally shielded and are only allowed in commercial airliners when properly installed ? they are not permitted to be loaded as freight on passenger-carrying flights. ValuJet Flight 592 crashed on May 11, 1996 as a result of improperly loaded chemical oxygen generators. 


The FAA is asking operators to reinforce crew emergency procedures to make it a priority to check whether the lavatory is occupied following any event where oxygen masks are deployed in the cabin. Operators may also choose to include additional instructions on the briefing cards, on placards in the lavatory or during the verbal passenger safety briefing. 

The FAA and aircraft manufacturers are working to design, certify, and install a new lavatory oxygen system on all of the different aircraft types and configurations in the U.S. fleet. (see Going To The Bathroom On U.S. Commercial Aircraft Could Be Fatal)

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