DOT Issues Final Rule Concerning Accessibility of Lavatories on Narrow-Body Aircraft
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) on July 26, 2023, announced its issuance of a final rule entitled "Accessible Lavatories on Single-Aisle Aircraft." The final rule amends Part 382 of the DOT regulations1 to require that certain newly ordered or delivered narrow-body aircraft offer improved accessibility for on-board lavatories. At the time of the announcement, DOT issued an advance copy of the final rule, along with a press release.2 This note provides a general overview of the Final Rule and is not intended to be exhaustive.
This final rule follows on the heels of a March 2022 DOT Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in which DOT proposed to require airlines to have at least one lavatory on new single-aisle aircraft with 125 or more seats that is large enough for a passenger with a disability to use the aircraft's on-board wheelchair (OBW) – and with help from an assistant, if necessary – to
- approach, enter and maneuver within the lavatory
- use all features of the lavatory
- depart the lavatory
The final rule applies to all carrier operations that fall within the definitions of the rule, regardless of the nationality of the operator of the aircraft. While this clearly would apply to all U.S. carrier operators of covered aircraft, it is notable that foreign air carriers or operators would also be covered by this rule to the extent they deploy narrow-body aircraft for their operations to and from the United States.3
The final rule largely tracks the NPRM, with one notable exception. Although DOT in its NPRM indicated that the new rule would apply to new aircraft ordered 18 years after the effective date of the final rule or delivered 20 years after the effective date of the final rule, the DOT in its final rule has significantly accelerated the timeline for regulatory compliance, changing the timeline to 10 and 12 years, respectively.
In addition to specifying the new requirements for aircraft accessibility, the final rule also contains shorter-term required improvements in lavatory accessibility for passengers with disabilities, such as:
- Upgraded lavatory interiors, e.g., grab bars, accessible faucets and controls, minimum obstruction to an OBW and an available visual barrier. This applies to new single-aisle aircraft with 125 or more seats that are delivered three years after the rule becomes effective. Retrofitting existing aircraft is not required unless the lavatory is replaced in its entirety.
- Upgraded OBWs that facilitate safe transfer to/from aircraft seats and that are maneuverable into the lavatory to allow the door to close. If it is not possible for the lavatory door to be closed with the OBW inside, a visual barrier must be provided upon request. This applies to all operators of single-aisle aircraft with 125 or more seats, three years after the rule becomes effective.
- Annual hands-on training regarding OBW use and storage, as well as proper assistance of passengers to/from the lavatory using the OBW. This applies to all operators of single-aisle aircraft with 60 or more seats, three years after the rule becomes effective.
It is possible (if not likely) that DOT's decision to shorten the timeline for the implementation of the final rule will cause considerable concern, particularly since the implementation schedule set forth in the NPRM was the product of a negotiated rulemaking process to which both carriers and groups supporting disability rights were party.
Holland & Knight attorneys are available to provide a more detailed summary of the final rule and discuss the steps carriers will need to take in order to come into compliance. For questions or more information, please contact the authors.
1 See 14 CFR Part 382, "Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability in Air Travel."
2 The official version of the final rule will be published in the Federal Register. The final rule will take effect 60 days after its official publication.
3 See 14 CFR 382.7(b), which provides in relevant part that "If you are a foreign carrier, this part applies to you only with respect to flights you operate that begin or end at a U.S. airport and to aircraft used for these flights. For purposes of this part, a 'flight' means a continuous journey in the same aircraft or with one flight number that begins or ends at a U.S. airport." See also 14 CFR 382.7(c), which provides that "As a foreign carrier, you are not subject to the requirements of this part with respect to flights between two foreign points, even with respect to flights involving code-sharing arrangements with U.S. carriers."