By Mary Grady, Contributing editor
Last year, the FAA ordered airlines to disable emergency oxygen generators that supply decompression masks in lavatories, citing terrorism concerns. This week, the FAA reversed that order, and gave the airlines three years to restore the systems. The change affects about 5,500 airplanes, the FAA said, and will cost about $45 million. The FAA noted that while "no specific designs" are currently available that would meet the FAA's safety criteria, "airframe manufacturers and aftermarket modifiers are working on acceptable designs, and we expect that there will be more than one solution available."
Kate Hanni, spokesperson for FlyersRights, told USA Today that the group welcomes the change. "It's about time," she said, noting that if decompression occurs at 40,000 feet, passengers can lose consciousness in 15 to 20 seconds. "We are relieved that the airlines will be correcting the failure to protect the public while using a lavatory at 33,000 feet, but are left wondering why the FAA did not order oxygen replaced sooner," she said. A USA Today analysis of FAA data showed that airlines reported deployment of emergency oxygen masks on 105 flights from 2001 through October 2011. The Association of Flight Attendants also had objected to the order to disable the systems.