It's past time for tank fix

FAA took too long but came to the right conclusion after 1996 TWA crash

July 18, 2008
The horrific explosion of TWA Flight 800 over the Atlantic Ocean in 1996 helped awaken the nation to the issue of airline safety. So it's ironic that only now, a dozen years later, will planes be required to carry devices that could have prevented the TWA tragedy.

As we concluded in an editorial four years ago about this seemingly endless stall: better late than never.

The time lag is particularly gnawing when you consider that the new rule announced this week by the Federal Aviation Administration is the same one suggested by the National Transportation Safety Board less than six months after it began investigating the 800 crash. The FAA reacts slowly: A similar system of injecting inert gas into fuel tanks was recommended in 1965, in a report on the explosion of a Pan Am jet over Maryland.

Those investigating the Pan Am crash and, later, TWA 800, believed that the payoff in averted explosions was worth the cost of installing preventive devices. But the airline industry has balked at that equation, saying the cost of refitting was too expensive, given the low probability of deaths.

A generally nonconfrontational FAA has required less extensive changes, such as updates in wiring and more frequent inspections. And so far no passenger20plane has exploded in midair since TWA 800. Whether that's a matter of coincidence or smart regulation, who can say? But we'd rather be safe than sorry.

The FAA's style has evolved from strict oversight to more of a partnership with the airline industry. A new presidential administration should rethink this policy. Lax inspections of Southwest and other airlines, foot-dragging on radar systems to prevent runway collisions, and 12 years for this fuel-tank fix suggest an agency that needs some fixing itself.



  Evidence of a Missile

  Flight 800 Database

Flight 800

Poll Results

>1000 Respondents

  Missile-------- 80%


  Bomb --------  4%


  Fuel Tank --- 14%

Support This Website with a Donation:
Copyright © 1998- 2008 Robert E. Donaldson - All rights reserved