In anticipation of a tightening of aircraft safety rules, Air France-KLM and Cathay Pacific have started to have airbags installed in economy class. The safety feature, manufactured by AmSafe Inc, is seatbelt-mounted and designed to comply with rules which state that since last October, all US built aircraft must be designed in a way that ensures passengers remain conscious throughout any situation where the aircraft is caused to decelerate through 16 g, or at 16 times the force of gravity.

Such a deceleration would take place in the event of a crash, and the airbags are designed to give passengers the best chance of staying conscious and evacuating the aircraft in the event of a fire breaking out, according to the manufacturer. Although the 16 g rule is not yet mandatory in Europe, Jeremie Teahan, of the European Aviation Safety Agency, believes it will be by the end of next year.

Many airline seats already comply with the 16 g rule, but Tony Tyler, Cathay Pacific chief executive officer, believes that because economy class seats are rigid, the risk of head injury during a crash is unpredictable.

The International Air Transport Association remains unconvinced by the call for airbags. The organisation’s senior vice president for safety, operations and infrastructure, Guenther Matschnigg, said that IATA was examining the use of airbags, but could come to no conclusion without solid figures.

IATA said that it would be presenting its results to the European Aviation Safety Agency sometime later in the year. Matschnigg was keen to point out that if it was proven that airbags helped in any way, then IATA would be the first to back them.