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Safety study : emergency evacuation of commercial airplanes
National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)
Since its inception, the National Transportation Safety Board has been concerned about the evacuation of commercial airplanes in the event of an emergency. Several accidents investigated by the Safety Board in the last decade that involved emergency evacuations prompted the Safety Board to conduct a study on the evacuation of commercial airplanes. Past research and studies on airplane evacuations have provided insight into specific factors, such as crewmember training and passenger behavior, that affect the outcome of evacuations; however, these studies had several limitations. First, in many of these studies, researchers did not examine successful evacuations; therefore, they were not always able to discuss what equipment and procedures worked well during evacuations. Second, only evacuations following serious accidents were examined and not evacuations arising from incidents. As a result, little is known about incident-related evacuations, which can provide insight into how successful evacuations can be performed and which can also identify safety deficiencies before serious accidents occur. Third, each study was a retrospective analysis of accident evacuations. This approach limited the researchers to information collected during the original investigation rather than collecting consistent information on a set of evacuations. Fourth, previous research on evacuations has not examined some of the most basic questions about how often commercial airplanes are evacuated, how many people are injured during evacuations, and how these injuries occur. The Safety Board’s study described in this report is the first prospective study of emergency evacuations of commercial airplanes. For the study, the Safety Board investigated 46 evacuations that occurred between September 1997 and June 1999 that involved 2,651 passengers. Eighteen different aircraft types were represented in this study. Based on information collected from the passengers, the flight attendants, the flight crews, the air carriers, and the aircraft rescue and firefighting units (ARFF), the Safety Board examined the following safety issues in the study: • certification issues related to airplane evacuation, • the effectiveness of evacuation equipment, • the adequacy of air carrier and ARFF guidance and procedures related to evacuations, and • communication issues related to evacuations. As a result of this study, the Safety Board issued 20 safety recommendations and reiterated 3 safety recommendations to the Federal Aviation Administration.