A minor nit on parachutes [in airplanes]

In the latest column on parachutes parachutes for airliners, Cecil quoted weights and costs of 37 lbs and $600. In my experience they are more like 15 lbs and $2000 or so.
as the two most popular makers of emergency parachutes for pilots. They aren’t as big as regular sport parachutes either, taking up about as much space as the flotation cushion.
All the other problems are spot on tho.

One point that was neglected in the discussion is this.

I assume that the most effective way to employ parachutes in a commercial airliner would be for them to be “handy”, ie. under your seat or above your head.

If every parachute were in one of those positions then there would always be the possibility of passengers tampering with them. This then, would probably require insurance companies to enforce the air companies to employ specifically trained and licensed personnel to “re-pack” each chute before each and every flight … a time-consuming and costly exercise.

I don’t mean to speak for Cecil, but it’s possible that while doing his research he found a military-surplus used T-11 parachute (without a harness/container system or hardware) for $600. I don’t think that would be an unreasonable price. And possibly the 37 lbs. refers to a full rig that a paratrooper would wear- two canopies (main chute and emergency chute), a harness/container system and all associated hardware. That would be closer to 37 lbs. than a pilot’s emergency rig with a single canopy.

After re-reading the article, I see that Cecil says

Sorry Cecil, but I don’t think that is accurate. Even a full military rig shouldn’t weigh 37 pounds if it’s missing a reserve chute. I gave you the benefit of the doubt on the cost, but I’m going to have to agree with ThisOneGuy on the weight!

Actually, to be legal to use a an emergency chute, it must be checked and repacked by a licensed parachute rigger every 90 days. When I do mine it costs around $80 or so.

Where do you live, ThisOneGuy? In the US skydiving is regulated by the FAA and a few years ago they extended the repack cycle to 180 days, after being at 120 days for many years. And $80 seems like a lot for a reserve repack- but then, I haven’t been active in the sport for several years.

I have a pair of T10C that we picked up at the DRMO auction for $50 each - for a while they were absolutely everywhere dirt cheap. Pretty much mint condition [most times anything your life depends upon tends to be kept in excellent condition … ] other than a couple stains and what appeared to be a wad of bubblegum stuck on the bottom of one we didn’t pick to buy at the time.

I have to admit, I would have loved to find one of the huge equipment chutes, that much nylon would be fun to turn into a giant poufy chair.

A military surplus T-10 was what I made my first few jumps on, back in the 80s- and yeah, they could be picked up pretty cheap. There were lots of them around, as you say. I think they were used by the military since the 50s.

And I should have known better than to question the Master- here is a link to the page for the T-11, from the manufacturer’s website. They say:

I still can’t figure out why it weighs so much. A sport skydiver’s rig is maybe 25 lbs, tops. Anyway, my apologies to Cecil for doubting him!

I imagine that it’s heavy because it’s cheap (or vice-versa).

Re: Cecil’s column of http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/3141/why-don-t-commercial-jets-have-parachutes

Someone suggested airbags for the planes. Actually, many small planes are now equipped with airbags and most can be retrofitted with airbags. The airbags are stored in the shoulder harness of the seat belt.

Several airlines also have airbags on their planes. For example, Alaska Airlines has airbags in the first-class section of 737-800s. (Kind of like the passengers in steerage on the Titanic had no lifeboats.)


The airbags are actually a reasonable solution, given that most accidents do happen on or near the ground. New FAA rules require greater crash protection on new aircraft and airbags right now appear to be the most cost effective way to achieve that.

MODERATOR COMMENT: Waddlingeagle, since there was already a thread on parachutes in planes, I’ve merged your thread into it, just to keep like-topics together. No prob. OK?

Does that apply to parachutes that are kept “at the ready” exposed to random strangers, unsupervised children, etc? Or just rigs that have some level of oversight to ensure they aren’t tampered with? Are there any emergency chutes that face the conditions that putting them in commercial airlines under the seats would be exposed to?

No prob, Dex. I thought airbags on airplanes were a different enough topic that it should be a new thread, but okay.

Could be, but I don’t think heavy-duty nylon is much more expensive than, say, canvas or some other durable (and heavier than nylon) fabric. I don’t know what the military backpack/container system is made of but I’m sure the canopies are nylon. I do know that a military rig has more hardware (snaps, buckles & gear attachment points) than a skydiver’s rig so that would account for some of the weight.

In the US the emergency parachute repack cycle is regulated by the FAA (in Part 91.307) and they make no mention of storage requirements or accessablility. I suppose that if airlines actually decided to carry emergency parachutes for their passengers (which ain’t gonna happen) they would come up with their own rules for maintenance, as long as they comply with FAA regulations.

That’s interesting, and I really didn’t expect the FAA to have rules on a situation that I don’t think actually exists.

Riga Marole’s point was that, regardless of what the FAA requires, if an airline were to have individual emergency chutes in the cabin accessible to passengers, then it would be highly likely that, for insurance purposes, they would need to conduct some sort of tamper inspections on those rigs prior to each flight. ThisOneGuy pointing out the FAA’s current rules does not really change that point.

The FAA’s rules constrain the chutes to be packed by a certified packer, and the timeframe for inspections is based upon contamination/degredation conditions possible from environmental exposure. There doesn’t seem to be anything there regarding possible tampering by random strangers who were bored or stupidly curious or whatever. The FAA’s rules seem to assume you will not be given a chute unless you are given some training on its importance and the need for not “fiddling with it”.

Can you imagine the pre-flight briefing from the cabin attendant and the seat-back holder briefing card on that?

I suspect the FAA rules are there because small planes (which account for the vast majority of crashes) with only a handful of passengers often do carry parachutes, particularly the little guys that only hold 2-4 passengers.

I’m far from an expert in the field, and when I researched this topic it was the previous millenium so I don’t know how up-to-date this info is, but at that time the crash rates for tiny little planes operated by contractors and not major airlines (though frequently hired by the majors for short hops in remote areas) were WAY higher than the major airline crashes. A few pilots I’ve known of small puddle jumpers did indeed carry parachutes for each seat, though I’ve not heard of them actually getting used except when planned for sport.

General Aviation aircraft have a higher crash rate than airliners; but it’s still pretty low. I don’t have time to look at it right now, but the Nall Report for 2011-2012 is available.

I wouldn’t say GA aircraft ‘often’ carry parachutes. Except for aerobatic aircraft and ‘warbirds’ (and skydiving operations, of course), nobody wears a parachute or carries them on the aircraft.

Glider pilots quite often do. But you are correct that the percentage of general aviation aircraft that have ever had a parachute aboard is small.

If (as will never happen) parachutes were to be carried aboard airliners, they would almost certainly be treated in a way analogous to the oxygen masks: no access by passengers unless an authorized crewmember (probably the Captain) makes the decision to allow it.

I’m surprised to hear that, Xema. What is it about gliders that makes the pilot more likely to carry an emergency chute? It seems to me that anything with wings has a fair chance of safely making it back to terra firma (barring structural failure) and gliders in particular since that’s what they’re designed to do. Could you go into more detail about why glider pilots carry emergency parachutes?