Mode Aviation
Reference No. AR2020-00016
Date reported 12 February 2020
Concern title Policy regarding restraining service dogs on board passenger flights.
Concern summary

Airline operator's policy for the restraint of service dogs in aircraft cabin  

Industry / Operation affected Aviation: Air transport
Concern subject type Aviation: Cabin safety

Reporter's concern

A reporter contacted the ATSB advising that Civil Aviation Regulations (CAR) 1988 section 256A(2) requires that an assistance dog being carried in the aircraft cabin must be restrained in a way that will prevent the dog from moving from their mat.

As such, it is policy of most airline operators that service dogs must be restrained by an appropriate leash, which can be secured to the aircraft seat or seat track ring, and which can be shortened as required. The reporter advises however, that [Operator’s] policy states that service dogs are not permitted to be tethered to any part of the aircraft.

The reporter advises that they have been instructed by the operator’s cabin crew to untie their service dog from the seat and that they would otherwise be in breach of complying with a cabin crew direction. As a result, on one occasion, the reporter’s service dog was unrestrained during expected severe turbulence. On that occasion, the turbulence was not as severe as predicted and was uneventful, however, a turbulence event in 2013 resulted in a guide dog being injured and striking another passenger.

The reporter subsequently sought clarification from the operator on their policy for restraining service dogs and was provided with the following response:

The Civil Aviation Act 1988 prohibits a person from tampering with an aircraft if tampering with it may endanger the safety of the aircraft or any person or property. Due to the seat configurations on our aircraft and the different aircraft in our fleet, assistance dogs cannot be consistently and safely tethered to all seats in our aircraft.

Our review has also indicated tethering may damage some seats. We also note that tethering to business class seats is not possible because of the way in which these seats are designed. We have considered as part of our review, alternative means of tethering Guide, Hearing and assistance dogs (for example, through the seatbelt or under the seat of the guest), however we determined that these alternatives would also be breach of CASA requirements preventing tampering with the aircraft. Further, in the event of an evacuation, tethering of the assistance dogs may pose a threat to the safety of others by becoming an obstacle in the row or aisle..…Because tethering your dog to the seat will not be an option for future flights, we ask that you ensure you are able to do this by holding the dog’s lead or placing the lead under your person.

The reporter contacted the ATSB to seek clarification on:

  • How the operator determined that tethering the dog to a seat could potentially damage the seat, when all other operators have determined that tethering the dog to the seat does not interfere with aircraft equipment.
  • The relevance of aircraft type, when all aircraft seats, regardless of type of aircraft must be rated to the same standard.
  • How the service dog is deemed a potential obstacle in an evacuation when the service dog is tethered to a window seat (which is all other carriers’ policy) with their owner beside it. An unrestrained dog in the cabin would likely pose a greater risk of being an obstruction during an evacuation and a violation of CAR 256A.
  • How holding a service dog’s lead or sitting on the lead would comply with the regulations in the event of large acceleration forces that may be encountered.

The reporter also noted that tethering a service dog in business class is easy to do if seated in seat 2A or 2F.

The reporter was concerned about the risk of injury to a service dog and/or passengers on an aircraft unless the operator amends their policy to align with other airline operators.

Operator's response (Operator 1)

As a result of this REPCON, the operator advised they would commence a review of the different seat types on their aircraft fleet to assess whether any of them could be used for tethering purposes safely and without causing damage to the seat. The operator stated that this process requires expert analysis from a range of stakeholders, including an internal engineering team and the seat manufacturers.  The operator advised that a decision regarding its tethering policy would be made on completion of the review, taking into account the review findings and all operational and safety considerations.

Regulator's response (Regulator 1)

The ATSB sought clarification as to whether CASA was satisfied that the operator’s policy for unrestrained dogs was a safety concern. CASA’s response to the REPCON was:

CASA has advised AOC holders and updated its website to advise that a suitable way of restraining an assistance dog carried in the aircraft cabin with its handler or trainer would not be achieved by holding the leash or sitting on the leash during times when passengers are required to wear seatbelts. At other times, holding the leash would be satisfactory. Advice will be provided about tethering the dog at other times in the same way as passengers are normally advised to secure their seatbelts at all times when seated.

Tethering a dog to a seat rail (or seatbelt) would not breach any airworthiness requirements and would not be ‘tampering’ with an aircraft provided the seat or seatbelt is not physically affected.

CASA has updated the information on its website to clarify the requirement to restrain assistance dogs when carried in the aircraft cabin to ensure compliance with CAO 20.16.2. It includes advice about tethering and a caution about not interfering with a seat or seatbelt. This information will also be included in the new advisory circular on this subject that will become effective in December 2021.

Last update 13 April 2021