Crowded seating could pose safety risks for airlines

The Boeing 787 was designed for eight seats per row, but most airlines have configured their Dreamliners for nine across.

Airlines are packing more seats into their commercial planes, and that could pose a safety hazard for consumers, according to a U.S. Department of Transportation committee hearing this month.

Airlines must prove they can safely evacuate their planes in 90 seconds or less during an emergency, Cynthia Corbett, an investigator for the Federal Aviation Administration, told the DOT’s Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protection.

However, declining “seat pitch” — described as the distance between the point on one seat and the same point on a seat in front of or behind it — combined with a growing obesity problem, fuller flights and more carry-on luggage make getting out of one’s seat in coach class a chore.

“Ironically, the International Air Transport Association has detailed charts and rules for the transport of dogs and other animals,” Charlie Leocha, a member of the committee, wrote on his consumertraveler.com website. “These humane regulations require adequate space to stand, turn around and lay down ... There are no such ‘humane’ rules for humans.”

The typical seat pitch used to be 34 inches. That is now considered “comfort class” on some airlines. Major carriers such as American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and US Airways have reduced their seat pitch to 31 inches. Low-cost Spirit Airlines has a 29-inch seat pitch.

In addition to tighter pitch, airlines are putting more seats in each row. Boeing Co.’s 787, for example, was designed for eight seats per row. Most airlines have configured their Dreamliners for nine seats. Airbus unveiled a seat config-uration that puts 11 passen-gers in a row on its A380 model.

As long as airlines can meet the 90-second evacuation rule, those configurations pass FAA muster. And airlines can repeat the evacuation tests until they pass.

“Examining the current airline practices of packing passengers on planes might be justified by financial and profit motives, but there are health and safety consequences,” Leocha wrote on his website. “It is time for the FAA to take a close look at passenger well being. After all, don’t you deserve to be treated at least as well as your dog?”

The State Ports Authority’s property in Port Royal is back on the real estate market, and a lawsuit over the site could be back on the court docket if the property doesn’t sell soon.

A trio of Beaufort County business owners agreed last week to withdraw a lawsuit they filed against the SPA. That lawsuit alleged the agency’s efforts to sell the Port Royal site — three deals falling through in nine years — has cost local governments more than $7 million in lost property tax revenue.

Erin Dhand, a spokeswoman for the SPA, said last week the lawsuit was “dismissed by mutual agreement of the parties.”

Nancy Vista, a Port Royal clothing store owner who filed the complaint, said it was withdrawn to help the SPA sell the property before a state-mandated June 30 deadline. If the property doesn’t sell by then, it will go to the highest bidder at an auction. And the lawsuit will be back on the table.

“The case can and will be refiled if necessary,” Vista told The Post and Courier.

The SPA has hired NAI Avant to market the property, which includes 52 developable acres and deep water on Battery Creek. The site was appraised at $22.5 million in 2013. NAI Avant has put a $14.8 million price tag on the property, but is willing to sell it off piece-meal. Offers must be received by 5 p.m. May 26.

The latest deal to sell the Port Royal facility fell apart this month when Furman Co. Investment Advisory Service of Greenville could not complete the terms of its $15.42 million proposed purchase.

The property is a former breakbulk port that opened in 1958. The SPA closed the facility in 2004.

Belgium-based Wabco Holdings, which is relocating its local manufacturing plant to a $17 million facility in Dorchester County, reported $652.2 million in sales for the first quarter of this year. That’s a 3.8 percent increase over that period a year ago.

Net income for the period was $83.1 million, up from $79.3 million a year ago.

Wabco, which currently operates at a site on Leeds Road in North Charleston, makes advanced air-disc brakes and energy-efficient air compressors for trucks and buses. Construction of its new, 145,000-square-foot facility off Patriot Boulevard is expected to be completed by the end of this year. The relocation is expected to create more than 50 new jobs while helping to sustain about 175 existing positions.