DOT Proposes New Rule Aimed At Improving Accessibility of Lavatories on Single-Aisle Aircraft
Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), which contains measures to improve the accessibility of lavatories for passengers with disabilities. The NPRM, which applies to larger single-aisle aircraft,1 does not require operators to change the configuration of their lavatories.2 Instead, the NPRM focuses on short-term improvements, many specific and technical in nature, which fall generally into the following three areas:
- Improved lavatory interior features (e.g., toilet seats, attendant call buttons, faucets, assist handles, and door locks)
- Upgraded On-Board Wheelchairs (OBWs)
- Enhanced crew member training and information availability
The specific requirements pertaining to improved lavatory interiors and OBWs would apply to new single-aisle aircraft, with a seating capacity of 125 passengers or more, that are delivered three years or more after the Final Rule becomes effective. The requirements related to training and provision of information would apply to all carriers operating aircraft with a maximum seating capacity of 60 passengers or more. While the technical requirements are beyond the scope of this Note, some proposed measures would apply also to aircraft that are currently in service if those lavatories are retrofitted.
The NPRM is a result of a lengthy regulatory negotiation process whereby DOT engaged with the aviation industry, cross-disability advocacy groups and other stakeholders. It also responds to a Congressional directive on this topic included in the FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016.3 DOT will, in the next few months, issue a second round of proposed long-term measures that would require carriers to expand single-aisle aircraft lavatories to a larger size.
Comments on this NPRM must be submitted within 60 days after the NPRM is officially published in the Federal Register. We anticipate publication will occur by the end of this week, meaning that comments would be due mid-February 2020.
1 See Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM): Accessible Lavatories on Single-Aisle Aircraft: Part 1, Docket DOT-OST-2019-0180, available at https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=DOT-OST-2019-0180-0001. See also DOT press release, available at https://www.transportation.gov/briefing-room/us-department-transportation-seeks-comment-proposal-improve-accessibility-lavatories.
2 Currently, there is no requirement that airlines provide accessible lavatories on single-aisle aircraft. Given that single-aisle aircraft are increasingly being used for long-haul flights, DOT has expressed concern that the lack of accessibility poses a deterrent for some passengers with disabilities to travel by air.
3 See Pub. L. No. 114-190, 130 Stat. 615, § 2108. The Act directed DOT to issue a supplemental NPRM on whether carriers should be required to provide accessible lavatories on certain new single-aisle aircraft.