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Infant Safety On Planes Questioned

November 4, 1989

SIOUX CITY, Iowa (AP) _ Evan Tsao was just one of 112 casualties of United Flight 232, but his death at age 23 months might lead to dramatic changes in the way young children are seated on airplanes.

The Federal Aviation Administration is considering new rules that would end parents’ money-saving but dangerous practice of carrying infants on their laps during plane flights.

The agency isn’t committed to requiring separate seats for young children, but that is among a range of options being studied for a new child safety policy the FAA will recommend to the Transportation Department by the end of the year, an official testified Friday.

Donnell Pollard, the FAA’s cabin safety specialist, was among the witnesses at a National Transportation Safety Board hearing on the crash of the United DC-10 that crashed July 19 at Sioux City’s airport. There were 184 survivors.

Current FAA guidelines allow children less than 24 months old to ride aboard an adult’s lap, although the agency recommends that infants ride in a separate seat, strapped in a child safety seat.

″We’re considering a lot of factors,″ Ms. Pollard testified. ″We have indications from the public that they like the option of not having to purchase a seat for children under the age of 2.″

Friday was the fourth and final day of the NTSB hearing on the crash. The board is expected to issue a ruling on the probable cause next summer.

Experts believe a faulty rear engine fan disk split in two during flight, severing hydraulic lines that are essential for controlling the plane.

Evan was one of five unrestrained children aboard Flight 232, according to United spokesman Robert Doughty.

NTSB records show his mother, Sylvia Tsao, 30, was uninjured but that Evan was killed when she lost her grip on him as the plane split apart and burst into flames.

″Suddenly the world seemed to end, and I saw for an instant my son’s body floating and flying at a very high rate of speed down the right aisle towards the back of the plane - his head first, his face away from me,″ Ms. Tsao told federal investigators who interviewed her after the crash.

″Infants, toddlers, young children’s safety should no longer be ignored as if they do not count,″ she added. ″If these kids need aircraft seats, then parents must be warned that they should put kids in them.″

Questioning Ms. Pollard on Friday, Fidel Gonzales of the Association of Flight Attendants union pressed for a commitment that the FAA toughen its standards for infant seating.

″Isn’t this a form of discrimination against those least able to protect themselves?″ he asked.

″We don’t consider that discrimination,″ Ms. Pollard responded. ″There is the option of purchasing a seat and coming on board with an infant child restraint system.″

Most airlines allow parents who decline to purchase tickets for infants to put the children in vacant seats, if available. However, few of the airlines provide child restraint seats, similar to those most states require in cars. The FAA issued an advisory in 1985 that recommends use of child restraint seats in airplanes.

Doughty told reporters that United offers discount seats for infants on flights that aren’t full, and allows parents to bring child restraint seats aboard for use in vacant seats.

Walt Coleman, vice president of operations for the Air Transport Association, an industry group representing major airlines, testified Friday that airlines have found many parents want to hold their infants in flight.

″I think what we’ve done is transfer that responsibility to the passenger,″ he said.

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