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Opening Statement at the Child Passenger Safety in Aviation Meeting, Arlington, Virginia
Jim Hall
Child Passenger Safety in Aviation Meeting, Arlington, Virginia

Good morning.  I am pleased to see so many of you here today for this important meeting on child passenger safety in aviation.  As you may know, child transportation safety has been one of my personal priorities and it is one of the issues on the Board's list of Most Wanted Safety Recommendations.  As a result, I have dedicated much of my energy and the Board's resources on endeavors that will help improve the protection offered to children as they travel in any mode of transportation.

For example, earlier this year, I asked automobile manufacturers to put kids first when designing new vehicles and we conducted a meeting similar to this one on child restraint systems in motor vehicles.   The Board also issued a series of recommendations on establishing fitting stations that would help parents ensure that child restraints were properly installed in vehicles.  I am pleased that DaimlerChrysler and others are bringing this recommendation to fruition.

Before I go on, let me introduce the Safety Board employees who are here with me today.  You've already met Nora Marshall, who's the Chief of our Aviation Survival Factors Division.  With her are Mark George, Cindy Keegan, and Jason Fedok.  Barry Sweedler is here from our Office of Safety Recommendations and Accomplishments, along with Elaine Weinstein, the Deputy Director for Operations, Jeff Marcus, and Stephanie Perkins.  Meg Sweeney is from our Office of Research and Engineering.  And, Phil Frame is here from our Office of Government, Public, and Family Affairs.

I'm sure everyone is already aware that we are in one of the busiest travel seasons of the year.  Families across America are travelling to visit their relatives.  No matter what mode of transport they choose, they all want to ensure that their children are as safe as possible.  And, certainly, no parent or caregiver would anticipate being in a situation in which they are better protected than their children.  But, that's exactly the predicament they find themselves in when they and their children travel by plane.   That's because there is no requirement for children under the age of two to be buckled up while on an aircraft.

Former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop said "There is no place that children go that adults have not made dangerous for them."  I've often said that it doesn't make any sense to me that during take-off, landing, and turbulence, adults are buckled up, baggage and coffee pots are stowed, computers are turned off and put away, but the most precious cargo on that aircraft - infants and toddlers - are left unrestrained.

For more than 20 years, the Safety Board has recommended to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that children be better protected.  In 1979, we urged the FAA to conduct research to determine the best method of protecting small children during crashes and turbulence.  In 1995, we issued recommendations specifically urging that the use of child restraints be required for young children in all types of aircraft.  The recommendation to require the use of child restraints when landing, taking off, or during turbulence conditions is currently on our list of most wanted safety recommendations.

In 1997, the White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security, chaired by the Vice President, also recommended that the FAA eliminate the exemptions in the Federal Aviation Regulations that allow passengers under the age of two to travel without the benefit of FAA-approved child restraints.

Yet, children continue to be killed and injured needlessly.  In 1994, a US Airways DC-9 crashed while landing at Charlotte, North Carolina.  A lap-held 9-month-old baby received massive fatal head injuries after being torn from its mother's arms. The mother, properly belted and restrained, received far less serious injuries.

In contrast, when American Airlines flight 1420 crashed in Little Rock, Arkansas, earlier this year, a 2-year-old child, seated in a properly installed child restraint, received only minor injuries.

Under current FAA regulations, parents can't be prevented from using an approved child restraint system if they have purchased a seat for their child.   However, parents have told the Safety Board that they are regularly given contradictory information about the use of those systems from reservation agents, gate agents and flight attendants.  In some cases, parents have not been allowed to use an approved restraint device even though they have purchased a seat for their child.  And, even when they can use it, they find that it may not fit into, or is difficult to install, in an airplane seat.

The use of child restraints among codeshare partners is also of concern.  I remember receiving a letter from the mother of a 5-month-old.  She had purchased a ticket for her infant on a San Francisco to Rome trip so that she could use a child restraint.  She used it on the first segment of the trip, but was forced to hold the baby in her lap when she changed from the U.S. air carrier to its codeshare partner because its civil aviation authority did not allow the use of aft-facing child restraints.

These situations should not occur.  Parents should be able to readily obtain the information needed to be adequately prepared before they get on a plane and they should be assured that their children will be safe.
That's the reason we asked you to be here today.  We've assembled this distinguished group of regulators, child seat manufacturers, airline operational personnel, safety advocates, and child safety research scientists from throughout the world to review developments related to protecting small children on aircraft, highlight challenges that remain, and identify solutions that we can all work on together.  I'm particularly pleased that representatives from Europe, Canada, and Australia are here to discuss the latest developments in their countries.

Today's meeting is not intended to generate new recommendations from the Safety Board.  Rather, our goal is to stimulate discussion and ideas to encourage better ways to protect every child who flies on an aircraft.  I hope that the discussion will be candid and that everyone will be open-minded about new possibilities including discounts for parents who use car seats.  We are all looking forward to hearing your thoughts on this important issue.

It is now my pleasure to introduce Jane Garvey, the Administrator of the FAA.   I truly appreciate Jane's willingness to take time out of her very busy schedule to participate in our discussion today.   Her commitment to protecting children is well known.  As administrator of the FAA, she has continued the FAA's world renown research program on child restraints for aircraft and she issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to require child restraints on aircraft.  Please join me in welcoming FAA Administrator Jane Garvey.