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TSB wants extra seatbelt protection for babies on planes

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) Most airlines let your baby fly for free if you hold them on your lap, but results of a Transportation Safety Board investigation into a crash over two years ago might lead you to pay for an extra seat.

The TSB investigated the crash of a Perimeter Aviation flight in Nunavut in December, 2012. The charter flight came in too high, too steep and too fast on its second landing attempt. It hit the ground after the runway. The pilot, co-pilot and six passengers were hurt, but survived. A six-month-old boy sitting in his mother’s lap was killed.

TSB Chair Kathy Fox says many parents trust their arms can restrain their child if a crash happens. “In the case of severe turbulence, a sudden deceleration, or a crash such as this one, research has proven that adults are not strong enough to adequately restrain a lap-held infant just by holding on to them. And just like in cars, adult lap belts are not suitable to restrain young children. This accident saw an infant ripped from his mother’s arms and killed in the subsequent impact, even though everyone else survived.”

That’s why the board is making two recommendations for Transport Canada. First, it is asking Transport Canada to force airlines to collect data on the number of young children flying. It also wants the agency to work with airlines to develop age appropriate restraints for young kids so they can be as safe as adults when they fly.

Lead investigator on this crash Gayle Conners says there is no seatbelt in existence that could save the lives of children in the most serious of air accidents, but airplane safety has come a long way. “There are many occurrences that are survivable due in part to the fact that the people are restrained properly and you’ve got the energy-absorbing materials that help absorb the energy… A non-survivable crash where everyone perishes, the seatbelt will not help you. However, in many cases, more and more so because aircraft remain very safe, you have to consider that if it’s survivable for one, why did one pass away? In this case, the child was not restrained and would likely have survived had he been restrained.”

The recommendations are not binding, so Transport Canada is not obligated to do either of these things. Conners says for now, it’s up to parents to keep their children safe on the plane. You can buy a harness-type device for children over one year old that attaches to the adult seatbelt. It is specially designed to fit a toddler’s body. Parents of children under one-year-old will have to buy an extra ticket and secure the baby in a car seat.