CHICAGO- On Monday (Feb 12, 2024), United Airlines (UA) temporarily grounded its recently acquired Airbus A321neo fleet due to pilots facing difficulties turning off the ‘no smoking signs,’ which are required to remain illuminated whenever passengers are onboard.
The grounding was initially identified by aviation insider xJonNYC on the social media platform X. Shortly thereafter, aviation journalist Seth Miller uncovered that United Airlines had formally requested a special exemption from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
United A321neo No Smoking Signs Issue
The prohibition of smoking on domestic US flights was implemented in 1990, and a year later, the ban was expanded to include all international flights.
However, when officials were drafting the regulations, they determined that there should be a provision allowing pilots to manually deactivate the illuminated ‘no smoking signs’ present throughout passenger plane cabins.
Over the years, U.S. airlines have requested and received exemptions to these regulations, enabling them to permanently fix the illuminated ‘no smoking sign’ to remain active at all times, eliminating the pilot’s ability to override this feature.
In fact, United highlighted in its letter to the FAA on Monday that the ‘no smoking signs’ on all its Boeing aircraft cannot be turned off.
The computer software on the recently introduced Airbus A321neo aircraft in United’s fleet is programmed to keep the seat belt signs illuminated continuously, without any pilot override capability. However, it appears that United may have overlooked obtaining the necessary exemption before deploying these aircraft into service.
In a statement, United informed PYOK: “We are temporarily grounding our five Airbus A321neo aircraft as we seek FAA approval for the ‘No Smoking’ sign to remain automatically illuminated rather than controlled from the cockpit.”
“We are working to minimize the impact on customers and anticipate substituting other aircraft types for today’s A321neo flights, ensuring no cancellations due to this issue today. We aim to resume operations with these aircraft shortly.”
Later on Monday, the FAA granted permission for United to return its A321neos to service while it assesses the exemption request.
Miller highlights that both Allegiant Airlines (G4) and Frontier (F9) have recently submitted exemption requests for software-restricted ‘no smoking’ signs on their Airbus A320 fleets. However, neither airline has grounded their aircraft while awaiting the exemption.
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