Earlier this year, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued an airworthiness directive (AD) that ordered airlines to remove the emergency chemical oxygen generators in airplane lavatories due to concerns that they “were easily accessible and could have been manipulated to create a flight hazard”. According to AVweb, this AD was administered in secret on February 10, 2011, and later made public in March 2011. The removal of all of the lavatory oxygen generators was required by March 14, 2011. The AD was originally issued in secret, which was in the interest of public safety according to the FAA. The AD was eventually made public to ensure that any aircraft that might have been missed in the secret directive would be made aware as well. Reports indicate that the AD was issued with the intent to prevent potential terrorist activity involving these canisters in an effort to bring down the aircraft.
Last week, the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) expressed concerns to USA Today that the FAA AD could put passengers and crew at risk. During a decompression, exposure to cabin altitudes above 25,000 feet for over two minutes without supplemental oxygen may cause permanent brain damage, according to the FAA. According to AVWeb, the AFA indicates that their training states that during a decompression, they must grab the nearest (available) fixed oxygen mask and cannot move about the cabin to assist passengers until given the pilot’s direction it is safe to do so. The AFA fears by that time, it may be too late.
The FAA indicates that there are alternative oxygen canisters in development that would be “safer” for lavatory use, but they are still two to four years away from being implemented into the aircraft. Some of this is news to airline passengers, many who traveled over the Thanksgiving holiday without knowledge of this AD and the changes to the aircraft. Concerned citizens have already taken to the internet to express their concern over the FAA AD, with images showing aircraft lavatories with phrases such as “deadly trap” and “this new FAA rule could kill you”. Still, the FAA stands by this risk to prevent what they believe is an even greater risk – the threat of a terrorist utilizing one of these canisters to attack and take down an aircraft.