Real life evacuation not needed for 195-seat A320 approval: Airbus

As passengers we might not relish the idea that seating on the Airbus A320 is poised to get even tighter now that EASA has agreed a path forward for airlines to add a whopping two-and-a-half more seat rows to the narrowbody. After all, no matter how airlines spin it, we know that more seats equals less living space for those of us who fly in regular economy class. But are there safety implications to squeezing 15 more seats into an aircraft that was originally certified for 180 passengers?

Airbus and EASA don’t seem to think so, as the former was able to convince the latter to re-certify the A320 for 189-seats by adding a larger exit door, and widening the evacuation slides. Adding yet another six seats to the narrowbody for a total 195 seats, as recently approved by EASA, will – like any new airline customer cabin layout – require certification “and when that includes a substantial novelty a specific approval from the authorities would be required”, Airbus senior manager media relations trade & technical press Martin Fendt tells RGN.

“We expect this will be the case for a LOPA [layout of passenger accommodations] of 195 seats. That approval will be sought when such a LOPA has been identified for future delivery,” he adds.

Moreover, the airframer says it can demonstrate evacuation of a 195-seater in the required 90 seconds through simulation – i.e. no physical evacuation test with real live people will be necessary. “We believe we can demonstrate the evacuation capacity by analysis based on the tests already conducted to justify the increased credit and also tests results from the original A320 evacuation test. This is the typical approach and means that a new demonstration is not required,” says Fendt.

The fact that a physical demo won’t be required doesn’t sit well with some flyers, who believe regulators on both sides of the pond are moving too quickly to certify high-capacity LOPAs by simply requiring simulation tests.

“Watch what happens in the real world when [passengers of size and] old people try to get out carrying their bags of medicine! The current race to squeeze more and more seats into a finite space is plain stupidity. It will take a forced landing followed by a major fire that kills most of the passengers to change the situation,” suggests photographer and graphic designer Ian Hodgkiss.

iStock_000017777777Large“Until comfort and safety return, I will only fly when absolutely necessary. Paying money to be subjected to this type of pain and the risk of DVT from lack of fresh air really is starting to make me think again about going on holiday by air.”

He’s certainly not alone in his concerns.

We recently asked the US FAA if it is conducting any fresh studies into passenger egress in the event of an emergency in light of the now very cramped seating conditions on some aircraft – such as the 10-abreast Boeing 777 and 9-abreast A330 (with seats being pitched much closer together, seats being added to rows, and aisles being narrowed to accommodate the additional seats). Agency spokesman Les Dorr responded, “If the number of seats increases beyond what the airplane was originally certificated for, evacuation capability must be shown by demonstration or analysis.”

He notes that minimum passenger aisle width is regulated by 14 CFR 25.815. Access to emergency exits is in 25.813, and the number of passenger seats allowed is determined by the number and types of exits, 25.807(g).


Aisle width on 9-abreast Boeing 787

Of course, there are also passenger comfort concerns to consider when packing aircraft to the gills. For instance, will airlines need to reduce seat pitch to 27 inches – a full one inch tighter than the traditional 28-inch standard minimum – to achieve a 195-seat LOPA on the A320?

image (19)Airbus isn’t saying just yet. “We are always working on space efficiency enablers, and it is too early for us to predict which of them will be used first to enable higher seat counts,” notes Fendt.

However, we know aircraft seat makers have developed 27-inch pitched models, and stand ready to provide these seats to airlines.

One area under study by the FAA is worth highlighting, however. A recent spate of aircraft emergency evacuations have shone the spotlight on the fact that passengers are flagrantly ignoring flight attendant instructions and grabbing their bags from the overhead bins before deplaning via the slides. This slows up the evacuation process, and could ultimately prove deadly.

“Luggage retrieval has always been an issue,” agrees Dorr. “It comes down to passenger education, which is one of our ongoing and primary research topics. We are testing a new serious games app that is geared toward passenger awareness and education about safety and survival in emergency situations.”

The app, featured on RGN  in January, seeks to recapture passengers’ attention and retention of safety briefings.


  1. Ian Hodgkiss

    Thanks for mentioning my concerns about squeezing more and more fat people into a small metal tube. I can call myself fat now because my oncologist wants me to get down to my target weight of 71kg from 100kg. Fat chance at my age! Unfortunately you call me an engineer but I was a photographer and graphic designer and flew often enough to be worried on some flights just how do all these family groups get out quickly if an “event” happens. And yes, I am now on medicine every 12 hours for life which means I would be carrying a small camera bag under the seat so I can carry it with me when I leave. Without it I’m dead anyway. I doubt in the real world that a relatively small aircraft such as an A320 carrying 180 people would evacuate in 90 seconds without some major bottlenecks occurring in the aisles and fighting between the fit and the weak over access to the slides. You just don’t want to be behind the woman who insists on wearing her stiletto heels down the slide because she paid so much money for them. Walk around any shopping centre and see just how many obese people there are in the real world. They fly places. They will get stuck in the aisle because the aisle has been trimmed back to the bare minimum so more seats can go in so the owners can make more money. It’s about time the regulatory authorities put their foot down firmly and announced real standards based on real scenarios that involve real people, not fit active cabin crew who know the layout and the procedure. Remember, most “events” are so rare that passengers would be experiencing them for the first time in an aircraft that is completely foreign to them. Watch how many would immediately rush forward to exit without knowing that some exits are actually behind them? Another thought – how much slower would it be to get out from the window seat to the aisle if all the trays are down and you only have really narrow access between the seats, let alone getting down the aisle jammed with 40 or 50 other passengers already? As I said before, it will take a crash followed by a fire that wipes out most of the passengers to change the culture of profit at any cost.

  2. Agree with Ian. Other than sub 30 pitch which is unrealistic for travel of typical human there is another issue: volume.
    If you put in A320 30% more passengers than originally designed each person gets 30% less volume to survive in. Not enough space for laptop, personal items, hands, legs and so on. No more space for luggage. Hard to get out to visit restroom and so on. I just want to see the greed of airlines will backfire with people grouping around airlines that provide decent room like JetBlue and avoiding sub 30 seats completely.

  3. Thank you, Mary ! Runway Girl is the Spokeswoman for the community of travellers who do not relish upon the prospect that our next APEX may well be our last one because of ignorance or misconception by both OEM’s cabin interior designers and architects. The emergency evacuation demonstration in 90 second was the Cerberes guarding airline passengers from crossing Styx. Airbus, Boeing, FAA and EASA have partied in private pretending to cook the rules of air transport Safety. But there are other interests involved : have Airline HSE or Flight Attendant Unions (eg Sara Nelson, Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, AFL-CIO …) round the world been invited to this hush-hush Party ? Apparently not …

  4. I wonder, is there a clause in the aircraft evacuation tests to include the average number of obese people when evacuating a plane? If not the flying public should insist on it. Frequent fliers should aslo demand that evacuation test should happen on every plane regardless of size and with obese people included.

  5. Salvador

    If people want bigger seats, then spend more $$ and go with business or first class. If you had an airline company, you would be doing this too. It makes economic sense for the companies.

    We, as customers, have the option to go with a different airline, upgrade to bigger seat, lose weight, and/or simply don’t fly.

    Too much complaining.

  6. @dPm


    I heard that the 787 never had a live evacuation test either. Boeing based their assumptions on 767 and/or 777.

    I haven’t heard about a A350 total live evacuation. I know they did partial evacuation tests, but that’s all I heard.

    Apparently, evacuation tests are less and less based on full scale evacuation tests.

    My two cents…


  7. Setting certified Exit Limits for new aircraft types based on theoretical egress flows of the installed Emergency Exits may possibly be simulated correctly using numerical protocols, as long as the LOPA models are parallel. But in the within context we are diving into unknown waters, with as yet unheard of pax densities, from seat pitches shortened to 27″ or below. These limits have not been explored before. No analogy, no earlier experience, no correlative model calibration has been carried through to justify an authorised application of any simulation protocols. We are getting down into the unknown. We are stretching the limits. This is not about interval approximation but about unwarranted ie invalid prolongation of modelling beyond conceivable psychological, physical (ie safe) live evacuation extremes.

  8. Frequent Traveller

    In any event regardless of whether Part 25 section 803 and sequels admit the principle of numerical model simulations to reset the certified Exit Limit of any given aircraft type, Appendix -1A to said text confirms that a FULL SCALE LIVE EMERGENCY EVACUATION DEMONSTRATION is compulsory whenever the proposed increment to the certified Exit Limit exceeds 5 % over and above the existing Exit Limit … now if we apply this limitation to 738, A320 and A321 successively we have 11/189 = + 5.8 % then 15/180 = + 8.3 % and thirdly 20/220 = + 9.1 % : according to applicable texts (whether simulation protocols are available or not) all three aircraft types must re-demonstrate live full-scale the new targeted Exit Limits. Full Stop.;node=14%3A1.

  9. Pingback: Hooray, Density! - Wandering Aramean

  10. Pingback: Less Legroom in the Air, Less Safety – Bloomberg View | Slinking Toward Retirement