Federal Aviation Regulations: Seat Belts and Child Restraint Systems

Child in car seat on airplane
Child in carseat on airplane. Getty Image/Vetta

For the most part, commercial pilots are well educated on the federal aviation requirements for seat belts and shoulder harnesses on their aircraft, but how familiar are they with child restraint systems? How old should a child be to ride on the lap of a passenger? Can any old car seat suffice for aviation use? What about booster seats? Or parachute operations?

The federal aviation regulations surrounding in-flight seat belt usage are pretty straight forward.

There are, however, two possible scenarios to consider: CFR Part 91, which covers general aviation flights, and CFR Part 121 and 135, which includes rules for commercial flights. The rules are different for each. The guidelines below pertain only to Part 91 general aviation flights, and not Part 121 or 135 flights.

 

CFR Part 91.107 Rule on Seatbelt Use

The government regulation 14 CFR 91.107 is the official rule regarding the use of safety belts, shoulder harnesses, and child restraint systems. Here are the key points addressed in 91.107:

  1. The pilot in command may not take off in an aircraft unless all passengers have been briefed on appropriate seat belt usage, including how to fasten and unfasten the seat belt and shoulder harness. This is typically part of the passenger safety briefing given by the pilot himself or one of his crew members.
  2. The pilot in command may not move the aircraft without instructing passengers to fasten their seat belts and shoulder harnesses (when installed) before doing so.
  1. Passengers must be seated in an approved seat with seat belts and shoulder harnesses (when installed) fastened during aircraft movement on the surface, takeoff and landing. There are certain exceptions:

     

    • A child under the age of two may be held by an adult (WARNING: see NTSB recommendations before holding your child on your lap or allowing someone to hold a child while acting as pilot in command).
    • Parachuting passengers may occupy a spot on the floor of the aircraft
    • A child can be restrained in a proper child restraint system, which must have two labels stating the following: "This child restraint system conforms to all applicable Federal motor vehicle safety standards,” and “THIS RESTRAINT IS CERTIFIED FOR USE IN MOTOR VEHICLES AND AIRCRAFT” in red lettering. A child safety seat that doesn't include the previous statements, but has been approved by a foreign government or the United Nations or in accordance with CFR 21.8 or TSO C100-b or later, may be used.
    • Booster seats, vest-and-harness restraints, and lap help restraints are not approved by the FAA.
    • Keep in mind the child restraint systems must be properly installed and used within the guidelines of the restraint system manufacturer with regards to weight, height, etc.

     

    If you are flying as pilot in command of a part 91 operation, you must ensure that your passengers are properly restrained.

     

    Is a lap child safe?

    No. Currently, the FAA allows children under two years of age to ride as a lap child without being restrained. But holding a child on your lap during flight is not safe. Use a car seat or an approved safety harness instead. Most car seats sold in stores are approved for aviation use, but to be sure just look for the red lettering on the side or bottom of the car seat.

     

    Should I use a car seat? 

    Yes. If your child is still in a car seat, you should bring it on board the airplane. In a commercial airplane, this will likely require purchasing a ticket for them. In a private general aviation airplane, it will not. Most car seats you can buy at the store are approved by the FAA for use while flying, but if you're not sure, check for the red letters on the label of the car seat. 

     

    What About Booster Seats? 

    Booster seats are not approved for flight, either for general aviation or for airline flying. According to the FAA, booster seats do not meet federal regulation standards and should not be used. Children under 40 pounds should ride in a car seat; children over 40 pounds can ride with an airplane seatbelt alone.