Associated Retired Aviation Professionals

NTSB lists 'most-wanted' safety improvements
Again, nonflammable gas in plane fuel tanks urged
Associated Press
Originally published May 15, 2002
WASHINGTON - Six years after TWA Flight 800 exploded off Long Island, it's time changes were ordered to reduce the chance of airplane fuel tanks blowing up, the National Transportation Safety Board said yesterday.

Board members, naming their most-wanted safety improvements, unanimously voted to renew their recommendation that nitrogen or another nonflammable gas be added to fuel tanks, which they have made every year since 1997. One year earlier, TWA Flight 800 exploded shortly after taking off from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York en route to Paris. All 230 aboard were killed.

The safety board has no power to force agencies to follow its recommendations, and a joint Federal Aviation Administration-airline industry task force objected to requiring nonflammable gases, considering the cost. The task force put the cost at $10 billion to $20 billion.

The FAA, which previously sought new inspections and fuel tank designs, has started to test equipment to add noncombustible gases to the fuel tanks.

"The technology is proving more promising than we originally thought," FAA spokesman Les Dorr said.

The safety board's aviation safety director, John Clark, said such a system would cost less than expected. In addition, the air displaced by the noncombustible gases could become another source of oxygen for passengers, an unexpected cost-saving, Clark said.

Observed safety board chairwoman Marion Blakey: "It does look as though real progress is being made."

The House Transportation Committee has passed legislation to require the Transportation Department to file annual reports on its response to each safety board recommendation.

Since its creation in 1967, the board has issued 11,885 recommendations, and 81.6 percent have been followed.

"We are encouraged by the progress that we have seen in the acceptance rate of our recommendations," Blakey said. "However, the board will continue to push federal and state government agencies, industry and private companies for more safety improvements to enhance our transportation system for the benefit of all Americans."

The board's other most-wanted safety improvements for 2002 include:


  • Preventing airplanes, vehicles or people from entering airport runways by mistake. "We're afraid the next major accident will be on the ground, not in the air, in aviation," Blakey said.


  • Allowing police officers to stop and write tickets that would impose both fines and points against a driver's license to motorists who are not wearing seat belts. In 32 states, police cannot ticket a motorist for not wearing a seat belt unless the driver has been pulled over on another traffic offense, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
  • Requiring booster seats for children ages 4-8 in cars and child seats for infants and toddlers on airplanes.
  • Developing better systems to detect and remove ice on wings and setting standards to ensure planes can fly after ice forms.
  • Redesigning school buses and commercial buses to prevent passengers from being thrown out in accidents.
  • Developing automated systems to prevent train collisions.
  • Encouraging states to provide graduated driver's licenses for younger drivers, enact new drunken-driver laws to curb underage drinking and driving, and prevent new young drivers from driving late at night.
  • Installing automatic data recording devices in trucks and buses.
  • Updating regulations on how long pilots and professional drivers may work.
  • Preventing boating accidents.
  • Copyright 2002, The Baltimore Sun

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