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14 CFR Part 382 Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability in Air Travel (Air Carrier Access Act): Preamble and Section-by-Section Analysis (with amendments issued through July 2010)

Note: This preamble to 14 CFR Part 382 includes a section-by-section analysis but may not reflect the regulation text in its entirety. Click here to see the complete regulation.


Congress enacted the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) in 1986. The statute prohibits discrimination in airline service on the basis of disability. Following a lengthy rulemaking process that included a regulatory negotiation involving representatives of the airline industry and disability community, the Department issued a final ACAA rule in March 1990. Since that time, the Department has amended the rule ten times.1 These amendments have concerned such subjects as boarding assistance via lift devices for small aircraft, and subsequently for other aircraft, where level entry boarding is unavailable; seating accommodations for passengers with disabilities; reimbursement for loss of or damage to wheelchairs; modifications to policies or practices necessary to ensure nondiscrimination; terminal accessibility standards; and technical changes to terminology and compliance dates.

The Department has also frequently issued guidance that interprets or explains further the text of the rule. These interpretations have been disseminated in a variety of ways: preambles to regulatory amendments, industry letters, correspondence with individual carriers or complainants, enforcement actions, web site postings, informal conversations between DOT staff and interested members of the public, etc. This guidance, on a wide variety of subjects, has never been collected in one place. Some of this guidance would be more accessible to the public and more readily understandable if it were incorporated into regulatory text.

There have also been changes in the ways airlines operate since the original publication of Part 382. For example, airlines now make extensive use of web sites for information and booking purposes. Preboarding announcements are not as universal as they once were. Many carriers now use regional jets for flights that formerly would have been served by larger aircraft. Security screening has become a responsibility of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), rather than that of the airlines. In this rulemaking, the Department is updating Part 382 to take these and other changes in airline operations into account.

The over 17-year history of amendments and interpretations of Part 382 have made the rule something of a patchwork, which does not flow as clearly and understandably as it might. Restructuring the rule for greater clarity, including using ``plain language'' to the extent feasible, is an important objective. To this end, Part 382 has been restructured in this rule, to organize it by subject matter area. Compared to the present rule, the text is divided into more subparts and sections, with fewer paragraphs and less text in each on average, to make it easier to find regulatory provisions. The rule uses a question-answer format, with language specifically directing particular parties to take particular actions (e.g., "As a carrier, you must * * *''). We have also tried to express the (admittedly sometimes technical) requirements of the rule in plain language.

The Department recognizes that some users, who have become familiar and comfortable with the existing organization and numbering scheme of Part 382, might have to make some adjustments as they work with the restructured rule. However, the structure of this revision is consistent with a Federal government-wide effort to improve the clarity of regulations, which the Department has employed with great success and public acceptance in the case of other significant rules in recent years, such as revisions of our disadvantaged business enterprise and drug and alcohol testing procedures rules.2 Many of the provisions of the current Part 382 are retained in this rule with little or no substantive change. To assist users familiar with the current rule in finding material in the new version of the rule, we have included a cross-reference table in Appendix B to the final rule.

In addition to this general revision and update, the Department in this rule is making important substantive changes to the rule in three areas: coverage of foreign carriers, accommodations for passengers who use oxygen and other respiratory assistive devices, and accommodation for deaf or hard-of-hearing passengers.

The original 1986 ACAA covered only U.S. air carriers. However, on April 5, 2000, the Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century (AIR-21) amended the ACAA specifically to include foreign carriers. The ACAA now reads in relevant part:

In providing air transportation, an air carrier, including (subject to [49 U.S.C.] section 40105(b)) any foreign air carrier, may not discriminate against an otherwise qualified individual on the following grounds:

(1) The individual has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.

(2) The individual has a record of such an impairment.

(3) The individual is regarded as having such an impairment.

Section 40105(b) provides as follows:

(b) Actions of Secretary and Administrator.—

(1) In carrying out this part, the Secretary of Transportation and the Administrator—

(A) shall act consistently with obligations of the United States Government under an international agreement;

(B) shall consider applicable laws and requirements of a foreign country; and

(C) may not limit compliance by an air carrier with obligations or liabilities imposed by the government of a foreign country when the Secretary takes any action related to a certificate of public convenience and necessity issued under chapter 411 of this title.

(2) This subsection does not apply to an agreement between an air carrier or an officer or representative of an air carrier and the government of a foreign country, if the Secretary of Transportation disapproves the agreement because it is not in the public interest. Section 40106 (b)(2) of this title applies to this subsection.

In response to the AIR-21 requirements, the Department on May 18, 2000, issued a notice of its intent to investigate complaints against foreign carriers according to the amended provisions of the ACAA. The notice also announced the Department's plan to initiate a rulemaking modifying Part 382 to cover foreign carriers. On November 4, 2004, the Department issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) to apply the ACAA rule to foreign carriers (69 FR 64364). The NPRM sought to apply Part 382 to foreign carriers in a way that achieves the ACAA's nondiscrimination objectives while not imposing undue burdens on foreign carriers. This NPRM also proposed revisions to a number of other provisions of 14 CFR Part 382 and generally reorganized the rule. The Department received about 1300 comments on this NPRM. In this preamble to the final rule, this proposed rule is called the “Foreign Carriers NPRM” or the “2004 NPRM.”

On September 7, 2005, the Department published a second NPRM, on the subject of medical oxygen and portable respiratory assistive devices (70 FR 53108). The Department received over 1800 comments on this proposed rule, which is referred to in this preamble as the “Oxygen NPRM.” On February 23, 2006, the Department published a third NPRM, concerning accommodations for passengers who are deaf, hard-of-hearing, or deaf-blind. The Department received over 700 comments on this proposed rule, which is called the deaf and hard-of-hearing (DHH) NPRM in this preamble. This document addresses the over 3800 comments received on all three NPRMs. The section-by-section analysis will describe each provision of the combined final rule.

In this preamble, when we mention the “present,” “current,” or “existing” rule, we mean the version of Part 382 that is in effect now. It will remain in effect until a year from today, when it will be replaced by the provisions that are published in this final rule.

1 The dates and citations for these amendments are the following: April 3, 1990, 55 FR 12336; June 11, 1990, 55 FR 23539; November 1, 1996, 61 FR 56409; January 2, 1997, 62 FR 16; March 4, 1998, 63 FR 10528; March 11, 1998, 63 FR 11954; August 2, 1999, 64 FR 41781; January 5, 2000, 65 FR 352; May 3, 2001, 66 FR 22107; July 8, 2003, 68 FR 40488.

2 See 64 FR 5096, February 2, 1999 (for 49 CFR Part 26, disadvantaged business enterprise) and 65 FR 79462, December 19, 2000 (for 49 CFR Part 40, drug and alcohol testing procedures).


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