HOUSTON - The Federal Aviation Administration is changing a controversial directive to commercial airlines that last year removed emergency oxygen systems from airplane lavatories.
The FAA is now mandating more secure, harder to tamper with oxygen systems be reinstalled within those airplane lavatories within the next three years.
Last year, Local 2 Investigates broke the story about the federal government's unadvertised change in policy. In fact, until our inquiry the Air Worthiness Directive that mandated the change was not visible on the government's website.
Now, the FAA wants the masks put back into commercial airlines but wants the systems fortified to make sure that terrorists can't gain access to the lavatory oxygen systems and perhaps use them to threaten or crash a plane.
The new system will dispense oxygen differently
The problem is approved systems of this "safer" sort do not yet exist. So the federal government is giving the industry three years to catch up. Some airlines had asked for even more time to make the $44 million retrofit.
In the meantime, there are no functioning emergency oxygen systems in airplane lavatories in about 6,000 commercial airplanes currently flying in the United States.
An FAA representative, who wished to remain unidentified by name, said that "rapid decompression events" on commercial airlines, a problem that would require oxygen mask deployment, are an extremely rare event.
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