Tanks unaltered 11 years after Flight 800
BY LAURA RIVERA
July 17, 2007
Jim Hurd II crouched among the petunias and wispy pennisetum
grasses at the TWA Flight 800 memorial yesterday, trying to fix
broken lights for tonight's prayer service.
Since his son, Jamie Hurd III, died on the flight on July 17,
1996, Hurd, 62, travels to Smith Point Beach each July on the
anniversary of the crash from his home in Severn, Md. During
much of the rest of the year, he urges airline industry groups
to outfit airplanes with a device that would have prevented the
explosion that killed his son.
Yet 11 years after the center fuel tank of TWA Flight 800 caught
fire, killing 230 people, the Federal Aviation Administration
still does not require commercial jetliners to carry devices to
make the fuel in their tanks inert, and Hurd is angry about it.
"It's like they're waiting for another fuel tank to explode
before they act," said Hurd, vice president of the Families of
TWA Flight 800 Association. "It's unacceptable at this point."
Before the TWA catastrophe, the deadliest of 17 incidents
involving an airplane fuel tank explosion since 1960, the FAA
had targeted sources of ignitions like faulty wires in its
efforts to prevent such fires.
But in a set of regulations proposed in November 2005, the FAA
acknowledged that it was "unlikely ever to identify and
eradicate all possible sources of ignition." The proposed rules
also said that to lower the chances of a fuel tank fire, about
3,800 jetliners registered in the United States should be
retrofitted with systems to make fuel tanks inert.
Airline industry trade groups balked at the projected cost - at
least $532 million, based on FAA estimates - and questioned the
FAA's prediction that as many as nine jetliners were likely to
be destroyed by a fuel tank explosion in the next 50 years.
There has not been a fuel tank explosion since Flight 800.
"We've eliminated the ignition sources," said Basil Barimo, the
Air Transport Association's vice president of safety and
operations. "They made projections based on conditions that have
since changed," he said, adding that safer jet fuel and pumping
practices had reduced fuel tank flammability.
Cutting the oxygen in tanks from 21 percent, the amount in air,
to 12 percent would prevent combustion, said Bill Cavage, fuel
tank safety project manager of the FAA fire safety research
Cavage said most current devices trade the oxygen inside tanks
with nitrogen. Last May, he also tested a machine that uses a
catalytic converter to convert fuel vapors into water and carbon
Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) last month introduced a bill
requiring the FAA to implement the proposed regulations by Jan.
"The government got a man on the moon in 10 years," said John
Seaman, president of the Families of TWA Flight 800 Association.
"It's been 11 years, and they can't even decide to fix the
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