A proposed DOT rule to lower the threshold to require wheelchair availability in Part 121-operated aircraft from 60 to 50 seats has rung alarm bells within regional airline circles, where 50-seaters account for well over half of the entire U.S. fleet. In the proposal, the DOT attributed the need for the change to the growing prominence of 50-seat jets. RAA president Debby McElroy sharply criticized the rationale in her response to the filing, calling the current 60-seat threshold “the correct aircraft size for imposition of many customer service and financial requirements.”
McElroy added that the single flight attendant on a 50-seat jet cannot both assist wheelchair-bound passengers and stay alert for possible security incidents. She also noted the wheelchairs in the narrow aisles of 50-seat jets would not allow clear access through the cabin. Perhaps more to the point, Atlantic Southeast Airlines estimated that the ule would cost it $300,000 a year.