WASHINGTON – A US and French move to disable emergency oxygen supplies in aircraft bathrooms as a security measure sparked objections Friday from French pilots and a US group who said it endangers passengers.
The US Federal Aviation Administration disclosed Thursday it had recently ordered US airlines to disable the chemical oxygen generators in the bathrooms “to eliminate a potential safety and security vulnerability.”
The FAA said the airlines had already complied with the order, which was given quietly to avoid publicizing the potential vulnerability before it could be fixed.
“This proactive measure will help keep travelers as safe and secure as possible.”
The concern was that the oxygen supply system in the toilet could be dismantled and employed in an attack on the passengers or aircraft.
The European Aviation Safety Agency said France was the only country in Europe to have implemented the same measure, and a French pilots group said Canada had done so as well.
The FAA said that work was ongoing to develop safer emergency oxygen systems for toilets, and in the meantime flight attendants were being asked to make checking toilets a priority whenever oxygen masks are deployed in the cabin.
“Rapid decompression events on commercial aircraft are extremely rare,” the FAA said in a statement.
But on Friday French pilots said that passengers are now in danger if they are caught in aircraft bathrooms during a sudden loss of pressure in the aircraft cabin.
Without access to emergency oxygen, such passengers could pass out or even die, according to Yves Deshayes, spokesman of the main French pilots union, the SNPL.
“We criticize the fact that no other alternative mechanism has been established in case of depressurization,” he said.
Kate Hanni of passengers advocate group FlyersRights.org accused the FAA of gambling that the problem would never come up.
“So, the FAA is calculating, in fact, that there will not be a decompression,” she wrote on the group’s website.
“If that’s so, then heck, let’s take all the oxygen systems out of aircraft. Think of the weight and fuel savings!”