FAA Decides It’s About Time We Put Oyxgen Devices Back In Airplane Bathrooms

You might recall that the Federal Aviation Administration ordered all emergency oxygen supplies be removed from airplane bathrooms, to deter would-be terrorists from dismantling them and starting fires. And now it’s time to get that oxygen back in the lavatories.

The airlines have been ordered to put redesigned oxygen systems in within 37 months, according to a directive published Monday on the U.S. Federal Register’s website. That rule doesn’t lay out new standards for the systems, however, notes Bloomberg news.

The oxygen in airplane bathrooms, to be used if the aircraft loses cabin pressure at high altitude, were deemed a hazard because passengers could tamper with them, and the pure oxygen could be used to start a fire, said the FAA. It was working with the Transportation Security Administration and the FBI to find a tamper-proof oxygen system.

The cost to the airline industry for installing new systems will be about $44.2 million, said the FAA, and it cost airlines around $935,000 to disable the old ones.

Oxygen Devices Ordered Put Back In U.S. Airline Bathrooms [Bloomberg]

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  1. mauispiderweb says:

    Great … more rising air fares and baggage check prices. Can’t wait. :/

    • aerodawg says:

      Sorry but that’s the way the world works. Compliance with airworthiness regulations is a significant cost for airlines and that cost is going to be passed on to you the passenger.

      Everytime you change the regulations, it takes an awful lot of engineers like me to make the necessary configuration changes and shephard them through the FAA approval process and to be quite honest, we don’t work cheap.

  2. StarKillerX says:

    So basically a $44.2 million dollar “We changed our minds” fee?

    • aerodawg says:

      Spread over 5500 aircraft. Compared to a lot of other maintenance and regulatory compliance items, the $8000 per aircraft cost for this is relatively minor. It’s nothing for an aircraft A check to result in component replacement in the tens of thousands of dollars and those are done every 600-800 flight hours….

      • RvLeshrac says:

        Imagine if they hadn’t done any of this in the first place. No $44M waste-of-money, no less safe. Because a fire in the aircraft could be better, and more cheaply, resolved by giving pilots control over the atmosphere.

  3. PSUSkier says:

    Well, that was a great use of funds.

    • PSUSkier says:

      And for a comment with more thought, people need to stop making these knee jerk reactions. I see this quite frequently at work; the latest being a an issue where some network routes were flapping in and out because of a software bug. The response? “Let’s rearchitect the whole area even though we’ve only seen this once during the many years of network operation!”

  4. Vox Republica says:

    What should be an obvious question: would it be cheaper to install a lavatory extinguisher fire detection and extinguisher system? Fire detected, flood the lavatory with foam; try to tamper with the extinguisher system, flood the lavatory with foam; try to stuff your golf clubs into the overhead bins, flood the lavatory with foam; flying to Cleveland, cry, then flood the lavatory with foam.

    • AustinTXProgrammer says:

      Only problem is that it might not work to extinguish an oxygen fueled fire. Change that to almost certainly wouldn’t work.

      • Vox Republica says:

        I might be missing something in your objection, but why would an extinguishing system based solely on oxygen deprivation not work in on oxygen-saturated environment?

        • aerodawg says:

          The issue is that the oxygen generators, by definition, produce oxygen so it can enter a situation where it is providing it’s own oxygen to the fire.

          There’s also the other little issue that the FAA will NEVER not in a billion years sign off on an automated fire suppression system that suffocates the occupant of the bathroom….

          • gerald.saul says:

            I feel like if you’re tampering with the oxygen system, getting flooded with fire suppression foam is a fair consequence. :P

  5. RandomLetters says:

    Does the FAA care that the 21% oxygen found in our atmopshere works for starting a fire to? Maybe we should have the airplanes filled with an inert gas like nitrogen. Then the airlines could charge everyone for the air they breath while on the plane…

    • aerodawg says:

      I came into work this morning with this particular airworthiness directive in my email inbox. The FAA is not concerned that the oxygen itself will be used to start a fire.

      The issue is that chemical oxygen generators produce a signficant amount of heat when activated and if they’re tampered with the oxygen generator itself will start a fire. Depending upon how it’s tampered with it could easily produce a situation where the fire is essentially producing it’s own oxygen making it difficult to extinguish…

      • RandomLetters says:

        I didn’t realize the system was generating it’s own oxygen. I (stupidly now that I’ve thought about it) was thinking that they used bottled O2. Which would be a very dangerous thing to do.

        • aerodawg says:

          Well, the issue with bottled oxygen isn’t safety. Lots of smaller aircraft use bottle oxygen systems. The issue is that bottle oxygen systems have a lot more intensive (and thus expensive) maintenance requirements that becomes cost prohibitive on large airliners.

          From what I remember, the only maintenance for chemical oxygen generators is replacement once they reach expiration…

    • JonBoy470 says:

      There’s plenty of fires that will not burn in a 21% oxygen atmosphere that can be easily sustained in the presence of a higher oxygen concentration. You can make damned near anything burn in 100% oxygen. See: Apollo 1 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollo_1

  6. Blueskylaw says:

    If the FAA is worried about terrorists using the oxygen to start fires, then perhaps they should replace the oxygen with helium. I mean seriously, whose going to listen to a terrorist who sounds like Alvin from the chipmunks?

    • Coffee says:

      That’s a terrible idea. If I were an airline pilot, I would totally open the cockpit to meet Alvin and the Chipmunks.

    • Skittl1321 says:

      Helium is becoming very rare- this would be a bad idea. Overuse (and a ridiculously low government required market price that undervalues it) of helium is putting valuable medical services at risk.

      • PSUSkier says:

        Lighten up, Francis.

      • JonBoy470 says:

        Yes, the Congressmen who drafted the legislation requiring the US government to sell off its strategic reserve of helium by 2015, regardless of market price, clearly didn’t realize the helium is necessary for cooling the superconducting electromagnets in MRI machines. Whoops.

        Helium is a light enough gas that that which existed in the atmosphere escaped into space billions of years ago. That which exists on earth today, ironically, comes from underground, where it is created as a byproduct of the radioactive decay of uranium.

  7. catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

    tamper proof? it appears the FAA has never met a teenager. your average bored american kid is likely to do more damage to any system in a place where they can shut the door from prying eyes than a terrorist

  8. sir_eccles says:

    Anything is a weapon in the correct hands.

  9. Diosynus says:

    The oxygen masks at my house certainly get used after I’m done in the restroom.

  10. JJFIII says:

    So if $900 is too much, what do YOU consider to be the “fair” price for the flight? You go online and they tell you flat out it is a 15% savings PERIOD. Should the airline just assume you are telling the truth? No consumer has ever lied about their age to get a cheaper theater ticker, or lied about anything to get a deal. If you did not like the $25 booking fee, you should have immediately said, no thanks and hung up.

  11. sjones says:

    StarKillerX: The airlines weren’t the ones who changed their mind, rather it was the Government. First the Government told the airlines to take the oxygen out, now the Government is telling them to put it back in.

    So calling it a “We changed our minds fee” isn’t accurate. It would be more like “The Government changed its mind resulting in higher costs for us, which we’re now passing on to you fee”

  12. TD99 says:

    Good! Have you USED one of these bathrooms? It could surely use an oxygen mask.