Injuries Involving Aircraft Boarding Stairs - Expert Article

Trips and fall during the boarding and deplaning process of air travel can be serious depending on the nature of the fall and pre-existing conditions of those involved. In this article, the aviation experts at Robson Forensic examine portable airplane boarding stairs, the hazards associated with this equipment, and some of the relevant standards.

Injuries Involving Aircraft Boarding Stairs - Expert Article

Passengers in the process of enplaning or deplaning an aircraft by foot are susceptible to the same slip, trip, and fall hazards encountered by pedestrians during other activities. This potential for injury has led several organizations to develop standards for safeguarding passengers during this process.

As early as 1947, safety organizations have published standards specifically addressing passenger boarding bridges or similar equipment. The following organizations have contributed to the development of current standards:

  • The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)
  • The International Organization for Standardization (ISO)
  • The International Air Transport Association (IATA)
  • The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE)

These standards have evolved over time, but generally address the same basic hazards involved with boarding and deplaning aircraft:

Gap between Stair Platform and Aircraft

Elevation differences between the stair/platform and the aircraft door are known to cause tripping incidents, while excessive horizontal gaps between the platform and the aircraft door threshold are associated with losses of balance and trapping of feet and ankles. Standards generally require the leading edge of the stair platform to be designed in a manner that provides a good fit to the aircraft fuselage. Bumper materials affixed to the stair platform should allow the unit to make direct contact with the aircraft without causing damage. Some standards specify no allowable gap between the platform and the skin of the aircraft, while others detail a maximum allowable gap along the length of the interface.

Regularity of Stairs

The safety of a flight of stairs depends not only on the dimensions of the risers and treads, but also their regularity. Variations in riser heights within a flight of stairs can cause trips and falls. Aviation standards have aligned with the practices of the architectural profession with respect to stairway safety. These standards apply to both mobile variable-elevation type stairways and fixed-elevation stairways of the type built into an aircraft fuselage, and call for minimum and maximum values as it applies to Angle of Inclination, Tread Depth, Riser Height, and Platform and Tread Slope.

Safety Guardrails or Webbing

Standards addressing the gap between the stair/platform and the aircraft also include requirements for guardrails and/or webbing to prevent passengers and airport personnel from being exposed to the hazard of the elevated edge of the boarding bridge. Standards generally prohibit gaps between the guardrails and the aircraft and specify that the design of the rails should allow for the aircraft door to be opened and closed without obstruction while the safety rails are deployed.

Our experts can determine the standard(s) appropriate to your case based on a number of factors, including aircraft make and model, airline state of registry, and locations where the airline conducts business. In addition to published industry standards, airlines will frequently address passenger boarding equipment within their own policies and procedures. When possible, our forensic experts will analyze the performance of airline employees to evaluate compliance to their own policies and procedures.

MAINTENANCE & OPERATIONS OF AVIATION EQUIPMENT

Industry boarding equipment is designed and manufactured for compatibility with the most frequently used civil transport aircraft types (i.e. families of aircraft sub-types with the same fuselage design). These types include the following:

AIRBUS A300 / A310 / A318 / A319 / A320 / A321 / A330 / A340
BOEING B717 / B727 / B737 / B747 / B757 / B767 / B777
LOCKHEED L1011
McDONNELL DOUGLAS DC9 / DC10 / MD11 / MD80 / MD90

In instances where boarding equipment fails to provide a safe and consistent walking surface, or to properly align with aircraft, it is important for investigators to understand if the proper boarding equipment was used, if the equipment was maintained in a condition for safe operation, if damage to the equipment contributed to the cause an incident, or if crewmembers failed to properly position and secure the equipment.

AVIATION INVESTIGATIONS

Robson Forensic offers in-house technical experts to address all safety aspects relevant to the boarding and deplaning of aircraft. Our aviation mechanics can assess failures and malfunctions to equipment and machinery in and around aircraft, while our tenured flight attendants and ground operations experts can address whether safety protocols and other processes were followed leading up to an event.

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