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Captain Ray Lahr (ret.)

18254 Coastline Drive

Malibu,  CA  90265

(310) 459-2232

Fax (310) 454-1372


July 15, 2005


Managing Editor

Aviation Week & Space Technology

1200 G St., Suite 922

Washington, D.C.  20005

Fax (202) 383-2346

The NTSB's goal of preventing fuel tank explosions is laudable, but its proposed solution misses the mark (NTSB Urges Fuel Tank Action, AW&ST July 11 p. 43).

Inerting fuel tanks is not a practical solution for the real threat.  The fuel itself has already been formulated to provide protection from a lightning strike or a random spark.  The real threat of a fuel tank explosion comes from a missile or a bomb.  As soon as the tank is ruptured by a missile or a bomb, we have the ingredients for a fuel explosion – misted fuel, outside air, and an ignition source.  When an airliner explodes without warning in clear skies, it can usually be traced to a missile or a bomb (more than two dozen incidents are on record). There are no proven cases of the source being a "spark of unknown origin", and this especially includes TWA800 where scores of witnesses saw a missile prior to the fuel explosion.  Liquid jet fuel is difficult to ignite.  You can throw a burning match into a pool of jet fuel and the liquid will snuff out the flame.

Government agencies understand the missile threat. The Anti-Sam Initiative was discussed at a 3-day closed meeting on December 11-14, 2002 (Aerospace Daily, December 16, 2002).  Understandably, the government does not want to panic the traveling public.  Usually the first statement after an unexplained accident is that "there is no evidence of terrorism", even before the evidence has been gathered.  Since PanAm 103, the government seems determined not to acknowledge any terrorist successes. Unfortunately, saddling the industry with an expensive fuel inerting system will only give the public a false sense of security against the real threat, which is a missile or a bomb.

Captain Ray Lahr, Malibu, CA 




  Robert E. Donaldson.  All rights reserved