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Montana plane crash refuels tot lap-seat debate
Deaths cited by NTSB
Question of the Day
HELENA, Mont. | Federal transportation safety officials are using the deadly crash of an overloaded plane in Montana to revive a long-standing debate about whether small children should be allowed to travel on the laps of adults.
The 10-seater plane crashed as it was landing in Butte, Mont., in March 2009, killing all 14 people aboard, including seven children. Investigators say that several of the children were found far from the plane, suggesting that they weren’t properly restrained.
The National Transportation Safety Board is asking aviation regulators to require all passengers to have their own seats and seat belts, including children under the age of 2 who are now allowed to sit on an adult’s lap during takeoff, landing and turbulence.
The recommendation last month is similar to others the NTSB has submitted to the Federal Aviation Administration over the past two decades, only to be rebuffed. This time, the NTSB, which does not have rule-making authority, is using the Butte crash as an example.
The Pilatus PC-12 was carrying three California families to a weeklong ski holiday in Bozeman, but then diverted to Butte for reasons that are still not clear and crashed into a cemetery next to the city’s airport. The seven children aboard were ages 1 through 9.
The NTSB has not completed its investigation into the cause of the crash. But the NTSB has released some new information with its latest recommendation, saying that four of the children were thrown far from the plane.
The crash was so severe that it’s unlikely anybody would have survived even with proper restraints, but the “accident renews the NTSB’s longstanding concerns” about the restraints, the recommendation reads.
The FAA agrees that the safest place for an infant or a toddler on a flight is in an approved child restraint and not an adult’s lap.
But the FAA won’t make it a requirement because the agency thinks many families with small children wouldn’t pay the cost of an extra ticket, and instead would travel by highway, which statistically is much more dangerous than air travel.
Earlier in the decade, the FAA considered changing the rule, but decided against it, citing statistics from 2004 that showed nearly 43,000 people died on U.S. highways, compared to 13 fatalities on commercial flights.
The agency estimated then that a child-restraint requirement could result in 13 to 42 additional highway fatalities over 10 years.
“What we found was that there were some parents who would be sensitive to price, and they would choose to drive instead of fly,” Miss Duquette said. “We would be forcing them into automobiles, which are less safe.”
By Andrew P. Napolitano
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