The horror of airplane crashes often brings necessary changes to the aviation industry but not always the most urgent ones.
In an effort to get regulators, airlines and manufacturers to work together on the most serious problems, U.S. transportation officials plan to lay out a new safety agenda next week."Tragic and dramatic as the crash of TWA 800 was, exploding fuel tanks are very, very rare," said Stuart Matthews, president of the Flight Safety Foundation, which brings together figures from the airlines and aircraft makers.
"We need to go after the major problems, not the `safety issue du jour,' " he said.
The principal goal is expected to be eliminating crashes that involve aircraft that have no functional problems.
Such crashes accounted for 25 percent of all commercial airplane accidents worldwide from 1987 to 1996, which killed 2,396 people, the FAA said. That does not include the 228 victims of last summer's crash on Guam of a Korean Air jumbo jet, in which investigators believe a perfectly operating plane was flown into the side of a mountain.
One possible remedy is mandatory installation of advanced ground-warning indicators in airplanes. A few airlines already are installing them.
Some industry and aviation watchdog groups have recommended for years a unified approach to aviation safety, arguing that setting priorities in response to crashes diverts resources from the problems that kill the most people.
Neither the Federal Aviation Administration nor the Transportation Department would discuss the coming safety agenda before the official announcement.