The Federal Aviation Administration said on Wednesday it has approved the first harness-type child safety device for sale to consumers for use on commercial airline flights.
The CARES device, produced by Phoenix-based AmSafe Aviation, involves a belt and shoulder harness that goes around the adult seat back and attaches to the adult passenger lap belt. It provides upper torso restraint for young children who lack the upper body strength to brace themselves during turbulence or other incidents, said the product's founder, Louise Stoll.
CARES, which stands for "Child Aviation Restraint," is designed for children more than 1 year old who weigh between 22 and 44 pounds and sit in their own seat.
Unlike hard-backed child safety seats approved for use in both airplanes and motor vehicles, the new device was designed and tested specifically for use in airplanes and is not approved for use in motor vehicles.
CARES has been in the works for about seven years, which included the last four spent navigating the FAA's approval process, said Stoll, a former Assistant Secretary of the Department of Transportation during the Clinton Administration.
Previously, the FAA had allowed only airlines to provide these types of additional child safety devices, but no U.S. airlines had been providing them, according to the agency.
AMR Corp.'s American Airlines is the only airline to have expressed interest in selling the devices to their customers, but nothing has been finalized, according to an AmSafe spokesman.
An American Airlines spokesman said the company always adheres to FAA child safety regulations, but declined to comment on the newly approved device.
FAA approval is normally required for specific aircraft, but CARES needed universal approval to fit on all seats and airframes, which added complexity to the process.
Stoll, 67, filed the device patent in 1999 and after it was approved, she signed a licensing agreement with AmSafe Aviation in 2002, making the company that already supplies airlines seat belts and pilots restraints the exclusive manufacturer of the device.
Moving the device through the FAA's certification process was "no easy task," said Stoll, who resides in Burlington, Vt. "There was a lot of sympathy, understanding and support" from FAA officials, but they were stymied by existing rules and regulations that called for a car-seat type device with a rigid frame.
But those seats often weigh 20 pounds and parents don't want to lug them around and through heightened airport security. CARES weighs one pound and can fit in a parent's pocket, she said.
The harnesses cost $74.95 each and are available online at http://www.kidsflysafe.com. AmSafe is taking pre-orders and expects to begin shipping the devices on or around Oct. 1, according to a company spokesman.
The FAA's aim is to make sure parents understand that the safest place for their children on an airplane is not in their lap but in an approved seat, according to an agency spokeswoman.
FAA Administrator Marion C. Blakey said the agency wanted to provide parents with options for flight safety and was "encouraging child seat manufacturers to design new types of devices that meet the FAA's stringent standards."
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