NTSB lists 'most-wanted'
Again, nonflammable gas in plane fuel tanks urged
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:
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