A government safety panel is urging that hundreds of Boeing 747 jumbo jets, as well as possibly some other Boeing aircraft, be inspected to correct wiring problems that may have led to the explosion aboard TWA Flight 800.
The Federal Aviation Administration said it agreed with the intent of the National Transportation Safety Board recommendations and said it was working with the Boeing Co., to implement some of the proposed safety improvements arising from the TWA investigation.But it was not clear whether the FAA will take the steps urged by the safety board on Tuesday. Boeing said in a statement it has been working on a response "that the company believes will address the NTSB's recommendations" but did not elaborate.
The NTSB emphasized that it has yet to determine the cause of the July 1996 explosion that killed 230 people aboard TWA Flight 800 over Long Island shortly after it departed New York's Kennedy Internation-al Airport, bound for Paris. But it said wiring and fuel monitoring system concerns, uncovered as part of its investigation, should be addressed in any case.
The agency urged the FAA to require:
- Inspections of the wiring and fuel monitoring probes in all older Boeing 747s - models 747-100, -200 and -300 - because of concern that the sharp-edged probes could fray nearby electrical wires.
- Rerouting of some electrical wires to ensure a separation of low-voltage fuel-monitoring wires from higher voltage wires. Investigators found the two types of wires running in common bundles in some aircraft.
- Installation of surge protectors to prevent electrical jolts from reaching fuel tanks.
Taken together, the recommendations would mean that all 750 older Boeing 747s still in service would have to undergo inspections and possibly extensive rewiring. As many as 600 newer Boeing 747s, and possibly other Boeing aircraft as well, could be affected by at least some of the NTSB rec-om-men-dations.
Such changes could be costly to the industry if large numbers of aircraft have to be taken out of service.
"The safety board recognizes the difficulty and expense associated with physically separating (fuel-monitoring) wires from other wires and adding shielding to (the) wires on in-service air carrier airplanes," NTSB Chairman Jim Hall wrote in his 10-page letter to the FAA.
"However," he continued, "the separation of the (fuel-monitoring wires) from other power sources by shielding and separation can protect fuel tank wires from power sources that can potentially ignite an explosive vapor in a fuel tank."