Friday June 2 2:30 AM ET 

 White House Plans to Probe Safety of Aging Wiring

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Clinton administration plans to form a research group next week to probe the safety of aging wiring in airplanes, space shuttles and nuclear power plants, USA Today reported Friday.

``Aging wiring is an issue of national concern that extends beyond aviation,'' the paper quoted Duncan Moore, the White House's associate director for technology, as saying in a May 10 memo.

Damaged wire insulation has led to fires and electrical equipment failures for years in military and commercial airplanes, according to Air Force, Navy and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) documents.

U.S. and Canadian investigators are also studying whether wiring malfunctions might have caused the crashes of TWA Flight 800 in 1996 and Swissair Flight 111 in 1998.

All 230 people aboard the TWA Boeing 747-100 that crashed off Long Island, New York on July 17, 1996 died. The Swissair MD-11 crash off Nova Scotia on Sept. 2, 1998, killed all 229 people on board.

The paper said NASA had put a hold on space shuttle flights last September because damaged wiring was found throughout the agency's aircraft. An exposed wire caused a short circuit during the launch of the shuttle Columbia last summer. Similar flaws were later found elsewhere on Columbia and on the Endeavor and Discovery shuttles.

The research group ``will become the focal point for wire safety technology in the U.S.,'' Moore's memo says, according to the USA Today report.

'`This group will be responsible for ensuring that federal research is coordinated and communicated in a timely way to improve safety for air, space and other areas where aging wiring is a safety issue,'' it said.

The group's first meeting is set for Wednesday, Moore told the paper in an interview. Officials from the FAA, the Defense Department, NASA and other agencies have been asked to attend.

In the memo, Moore said his office decided to form the group after reviewing research and safety efforts begun by the government agencies and meeting with leaders of the International Aviation Safety Association, a consumer safety organization.

IASA has been pressuring Vice President Al Gore (news - web sites)'s office to get more involved in wiring safety issues. It is led by Lyn Romano, whose husband died in the Swissair crash, and Ed Block, a former Defense Department wiring expert who is on an FAA panel that is studying airliner wiring. 

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