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
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