Associated Retired Aviation Professionals

US Moves to Boost Plane Fuel Tank Safety
Tue February 17, 2004 12:31 PM ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. regulators on Tuesday said they plan to order modifications on 3,800 commercial airplanes to reduce chances of a fuel tank explosion like the one that brought down TWA Flight 800 in 1996.

The initiative, once dismissed as too expensive and impractical for the passenger fleet, could cost the industry at least $530 million over several years, the Federal Aviation Administration said.

"Our people have really brought us to a breakthrough on virtually eliminating fuel tank explosions on aircraft like the one that brought down TWA 800," FAA Administrator Marion Blakey said.

In that case, investigators concluded a wiring problem triggered an electrical short that ignited fuel vapors in the center-wing tank of the older model Boeing 747. The plane crashed in the Atlantic off New York's Long Island, killing all 230 people aboard.

Blakey said the FAA will propose a regulation later this year requiring the industry to install a fuel tank safety device on new planes made by Airbus (EAD.DE: Quote, Profile, Research) and Boeing Co. (BA.N: Quote, Profile, Research) and retrofit existing aircraft over a seven-year period. Regulations, however, can take years to finalize.

The on-board device is designed to reduce the threat of combustion by neutralizing the potentially volatile fuel-air mixture in empty or emptying tanks. This is achieved by replacing oxygen with nitrogen-enriched air.

Certain commercial aircraft models, like the Boeing 747 and 737 and the Airbus A320, could be modified first, the FAA said.

Reuters 2004. All Rights Reserved.


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