FAA relaxes airline oxygen regulation

Sunday, July 17, 2005

WASHINGTON -- The Federal Aviation Administration passed a rule last week that should make it much easier for respiratory patients to travel onboard commercial airlines.

On July 12, the FAA issued a rule that allows, but does not require, airlines to let patients travel with portable oxygen concentrators during all phases of the flight, including take-off and landing. This is the first time oxygen patients have had the opportunity to fly commercially with their own oxygen. Currently, many airlines don't provide oxygen because its expensive and beyond their scope of expertise. This means oxygen patients have limited and often inconvenient flight options.

The rule change comes after years of advocacy by patients, providers and manufacturers to convince federal regulators that modern portable oxygen systems are safe for air travel. Because regulators can't monitor the contents of oxygen cylinders, patients probably won't be able to bring them on board anytime soon, say industry sources.

Currently, only Inogen and Airsep make portable concentrators approved by the FAA for this purpose. At some point, however, the FAA plans to develop generic performance standards, and if new products meet these, patients will be able to use them onboard commercial airlines.

The new rule goes into effect Aug. 11.

The rule also eliminates the lengthy certification process airlines must undertake if they want to provide medical oxygen in flight. Because this process was so expensive, many airlines, especially budget carriers, shunned it.

Although airlines don't have to allow portable concentrators on board, Airsep President Joe Priest said he believes they'll welcome the change. Inogen's vice president of sales, Bob Fary, agrees.

"Most of the (airline) people we've spoken to like the idea because they are spending a lot of money and not making any on the provision of oxygen," Fary said. "I think air carriers may see this as an opportunity because people who travel with oxygen never travel alone. So it's an opportunity to sell two seats."