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Thursday, Jun 13, 2002

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Fly Club Class, have life jacket

Rukmani Vishwanath

MUMBAI, June 12

WHAT if your flight lands in water? If you are a Club Class passenger, a life jacket will keep you afloat. If you are an economy traveller..."hang on to that seat cushion," announced the airhostess cheerily.

The safety instruction, on a Mumbai-Delhi flight, was given to Economy Class passengers of a private domestic carrier by a hostess demonstrating emergency measures.

Economy Class passengers got particularly nervous because Club Class passengers on the same flight were issued regular life jackets and given a separate demonstration on how to use them.

A jittery passenger felt he was on the Titanic. First class passengers on the giant ship, which sank on its maiden voyage, were apparently given preference over others on lifeboats.

According to a senior official in the Directorate-General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), the seat cushions, also known as "floating devices," are approved as safety devices by the Federal Aviation Agencies (F.A.A) and the DGCA and are considered equally effective in terms of safety. "Nevertheless, if an airline chooses to provide only a section of its passengers with life jackets, that must be purely on commercial considerations," he said.

The Chief Flight Safety Officer of the airline said, "It all boils down to the availability of life jackets at a given time as private airlines at times are short of them. In such times, floating devices, which are considered equally safe, are used as substitutes."

Life jackets require a lot of testing and inspection, and are subjected to pressure and leakage tests on a regular basis, said a senior official with the Flight Safety Division of Indian Airlines.

"Private airlines lack the infrastructure to conduct these tests on a bulk basis. These airlines may be equipped only to test and maintain a limited number of jackets which may be used in Club Class which has limited number of seats," he said.

An official with a leading private airline confided, "Cost-effectiveness is the key driver that forces decisions in these matters. Since these orders are placed in bulk, airlines go for the best deal."

Perhaps it would be prudent if each airline has a uniform code about the kind of safety props they provide to various class of passengers.

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