U.S. proposes to require disabled-accessible toilets on single-aisle airplanes

WASHINGTON, Dec 16 (Reuters) - The U.S. Transportation Department on Monday proposed to require airlines ensure that toilets on single-aisle aircraft are accessible to the disabled but is not requiring larger lavatories.

In a proposed rule, the agency said airlines that operate new single-aisle aircraft with seating capacity of 125 or more seats would need to ensure the accessibility of features like toilet seats, assist handles, faucets, attendant call buttons, and door locks.

Airlines would also need an on-board wheelchair meeting specific performance standards on such aircraft that would permit its entry to the aircraft lavatory.

Disabled people are forced to avoid using the toilet for hours, the administration said, which deters some from taking flights. The proposal will be open for public comment for 60 days.

The department said single-aisle aircraft with seating capacity of 125 or more seats “are increasingly being used by airlines for long-haul flights. At present, there is no requirement that airlines provide accessible lavatories on single-aisle aircraft.”

The department would also require airlines to train flight attendants how to assist disabled passengers to and from the lavatory.

The department also plans to seek comment and gather information on the costs and benefits of requiring airlines to make lavatories on new single-aisle aircraft larger, equivalent to that currently found on twin-aisle aircraft. But it is not currently proposing to increase the size of lavatories on single-aisle aircraft.

The department said the cost of the accessibility features is estimated at about $1,000 per lavatory based on discussions with airlines and aircraft manufacturers - a small fraction of overall industry costs.

In total, the cost of the proposed rule is estimated at $2.1 million per year, while in 2017 total costs across all categories of operating costs for American Airlines Co, Delta, United Airlines, Alaska Air, and JetBlue Airways Corp was $166 billion, the department said. (Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Dan Grebler)