Safety plea on jet exit hatches

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The Independent Online
Escape hatches on passenger jets should be redesigned to make them easier and quicker to open, according to research by airline safety experts. Some gangways should be made wider to improve access to main exits.

The findings are from an investigation into cabin safety set up by the Civil Aviation Authority after the 1985 Manchester airport disaster, in which 55 people died. The deaths happened as passengers tried to flee toxic fumes when a British Airtours Boeing 737 caught fire on a runway.

Flight International, the airline industry magazine, said the researchers were suggesting modifications to the hatches on some in-service aircraft. European Joint Aviation Authorities were already considering widening some gangways close to main exits in new planes as a result of the same team's research.

The events in Manchester were said to be aggravated by evacuation delays caused by a malfunctioning door, restricted access to exits and hatches being difficult to open.

The official inquiry, which reported in 1989, recommended access improvements to exits and since the tragedy British airlines have implemented CAA instructions to modify emergency door opening mechanisms, fit all aircraft with floor- level lighting, and increase spacing between seats near exit doors.

Researchers found that escape hatches, weighing about 20kg, fitted in most airliners and usually positioned above the wing are potentially dangerous because in some accidents delays have occurred as a result of the difficulties people have in handling them.

A new method favoured at this stage is to introduce hatches using a spring-loaded mechanism and guide rails which enable the hatch easily to be pulled inwards then upwards.