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FAA Revises Weight Requirements As Crash is Linked to Overloading

By Matthew L. Wald

THE NEW YORK TIMES -- WASHINGTON

The Federal Aviation Administration on Monday told airlines flying planes with more than 19 seats to raise the assumed average weight of each passenger by 10 pounds, and the assumed weight for each checked bag by another 5 pounds to ensure their planes were not overloaded.

The notice sent to all airlines Monday gives them 90 days to adopt the new weight rules or to conduct their own surveys of passenger and luggage weight. The actions were spurred by the January crash of a commuter plane that may have been within the current weight rules but may still have been overloaded. The National Transportation Safety Board is set to open hearings into that mishap next week.

Since 1995, most airlines have assumed a weight of 180 pounds per adult in summer and 185 pounds in winter; checked bags are assumed to weigh 25 pounds each.

Some airlines flying small planes with 19 seats or fewer have already raised their weight allowances by about 30 pounds, the FAA said Monday, after an order from the agency earlier this year to 15 airlines asking them to survey passengers and their bags and adjust their assumptions about their weights accordingly. Some industry experts said the new weight requirements will mean that on some flights, mostly on smaller planes, cargo may have to be left behind or some seats go unsold.

“It’s going to have an impact,” said Diane Spitaliere, a spokeswoman for the FAA.

The order Monday is an interim measure until the agency can establish a committee of private and government experts to study the issue further. That effort is expected to take months or years.

Because the issue involves safety, no airline publicly disputed the agency’s action, though some executives said that closer surveys of actual weights may demonstrate the new allowances were too high.