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Yahoo! News   Friday, August 30, 2002
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AP World Politics

FAA orders inspection of Boeing jets that could have faulty fuel pumps

Fri Aug 30, 6:18 PM ET

RECASTS to raise reference to foreign airlines


Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration ( news - web sites) on Friday ordered U.S. airlines to inspect 1,440 Boeing jets to see if they have a fuel pump with potentially faulty wiring that could lead to an explosion. The FAA also said it was warning foreign airlines, which operate about 2,100 of the aircraft with suspect pumps.

The FAA stressed that no serious incidents have been linked to problems with the pumps, which are made by Hydro-Aire Inc. of Burbank, California, and were installed in January and April on Boeing 737s, 747s and 757s.

The U.S. airlines were given four days to inspect their fleets. The FAA estimated 1,250 pumps could have a problem with wires that were placed too close to a rotor and can chafe.

The FAA is sending advisories about the pumps to its counterpart agencies in other countries.

Ron Wojnar, the FAA's deputy director of aircraft certification services, said any airlines with the pumps are being ordered to keep enough fuel in the tanks to cover the devices even when the planes bank or encounter turbulence in flight.

Wojnar said the submersion would prevent any sparks from igniting fuel vapors.

"This is not an unsafe condition," he said.

The order affects 515 of the 737s, 247 of the 747s, and 678 of the 757s operated by U.S. carriers.

The FAA will issue a follow-up directive in a few weeks, instructing carriers to repair or replace any faulty pumps, Wojnar said.

The pumps are located in the center fuel tank under the fuselage. Some planes may also have pumps in wing tanks.

Boeing spokeswoman Liz Veridier said her company sent the airlines a bulletin Wednesday ordering the pumps to be replaced on 116 new planes that had been put into use this year.

Other 737s, 747s and 757s were ordered to fly only with their tanks full enough to cover the pumps until further inspections could be carried out, she said.

The problem was detected on three planes that had pumps short out and stop working, giving the crew an indication of low pressure in the tank, said FAA spokesman Les Dorr.

The British carrier easyJet sent the pump back to Hydro-Aire on Aug. 12 after the crew of one of its Boeing 737s detected low pressure, Dorr said. A week later, a Northwest Airlines 747-400 reported a low pressure indication and found the same problem, he said. A China Southern Airlines 747-400 experienced the same trouble.

The National Transportation Safety Board ( news - web sites) ruled that an explosion in the center fuel tank of TWA Flight 800 caused it to crash off the coast of Long Island in 1996. It said vapors in the nearly empty tank probably were ignited by a spark in wiring.

The Paris-bound Boeing 747 exploded in a fireball at 13,700 feet (4,175 meters), minutes after leaving John F. Kennedy International Airport. All 230 people on board were killed.

The Faulty Fuel Pump AD (34kb)

EasyJet is replacing fuel pumps in five of its Boeing 737 aircraft following a safety alert. The Federal Aviation Administration in the US is warning all operators of 737, 747 and 757 planes around the world amid fears that a type of pump could be faulty. Experts fear that wiring on pumps placed too near a rotor could chafe, producing sparks and igniting fumes from highly flammable aircraft fuel. The devices, which are located in the central fuel tank under the fuselage and also in wing tanks, were installed in January and April. A spokesman for Boeing in the UK says that a total of 118 aircraft worldwide have been identified as having the pumps installed: 93 are 737s, 17 747s and eight 757s. It was not known how many, if any, are used by UK airlines. No serious incidents have been reported yet but easyJet was one of three carriers to raise the alarm after a pilot complained of low pressure in a tank of one of its 18 737-700s. A statement from the Luton Airport-based company said: "easyJet returned a fuel pump from a Boeing 737-700 to the pump manufacturer in early August when it became unserviceable. The airline has yet to receive confirmation as to the cause of the problem. "Safety is the first priority at easyJet. As a result, a flight crew notice has been issued and the airline will be adhering to the terms of the FAA's directive and maintain minimum fuel levels in the centre fuel tanks to ensure that the fuel pump inlets remain immersed in fuel under all operating conditions." A bmi British Midland spokeswoman said: "It hasn't affected our fleet at all. No-one need be concerned." Charter airlines Britannia and Monarch said they too had checked their aircraft but were not affected.
"Ron Wojnar, the FAA's deputy director of aircraft certification services, said any airlines with the pumps are being ordered to keep enough fuel in the tanks to cover the devices even when the planes bank or encounter turbulence in flight.

Well just how much fuel is that, Mr Wojnar?

Mr Boeing says, " Main tanks must be full if center tank contains more than 1000lb/453Kgs" (a max zero fuel weight consideration).

Does Mr Wojnar state that less than 1000lb in the centre tank is sufficient to keep the pumps submerged in all aircraft attitudes, including turbulence?

In today's litigious world I'd have thought he was sticking his neck out to suggest that without a lengthy research exercise, and to suggest flying around with more than that in the center is exceeding a manufacturer's limitation.

Not very clear, is it?

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Regulators ordered U.S. airlines on Friday to immediately inspect more than 1,400 planes to see if they are equipped with a potentially defective fuel pump, fearing the pumps could cause a fire or an explosion in the rare event that fuel tanks run dry.

The Federal Aviation Administration issued an emergency directive to carriers about pumps designed for use in center-wing fuel tanks on Boeing Co. aircraft, including 737-600, -700, -700C, 800, and -900; 747; and 757 series airplanes certified as passenger or cargo aircraft.

Roughly 1,400 planes in the U.S. fleet must be checked, the FAA said. A slightly larger number of planes operated by foreign-based airlines could be affected as well and the FAA has notified civil aviation agencies around the world.

Regulators believe only a small number of pumps are defective.

No mishaps are linked to the pumps, which were manufactured by Boeing supplier Hydro-Aire Inc., of Burbank, California.

"We're trying to prevent any incidents or accidents," Ron Wojnar, FAA deputy director of aircraft certification, said in a conference call with reporters.

Gregory Ward, Hydro-Aire president, said the defect was discovered just days ago when an inoperative pump was sent back to the manufacturer and inspected. The FAA said it received reports within that time frame of three pumps that simply stopped working.

A manufacturing flaw in a small number of pumps could allow wires to come into contact with a moving rotor, Ward confirmed. This could cause premature wear of the wires and possibly create sparks that could ignite fuel vapors.

Wojnar said the order covered 1,250 of the suspect Hydro-Aire pumps made since January and installed on aircraft or stored as spare parts. Unrelated changes in the manufacturing process eliminated the need to check more pumps, the FAA said. Boeing has so far identified 116 aircraft equipped with the suspect pump model.

Wojnar said airlines have four days to determine if their planes are equipped with them. If they are, the near-term requirement is for crews to ensure that pumps remain submerged in fuel at all times. This mitigates the risk of vapor ignition. There are also new guidelines for using fuel from the center-wing tank. Airplanes also carry fuel in their wings.

In addition, the order increases the minimum amount of fuel that should be in the center tank to make sure the pump remains covered even when the plane is not flying level. The FAA will explore a longer-term strategy for dealing with the pumps in the coming weeks.

Fuel pump safety received new scrutiny after the explosion of TWA Flight 800 in 1996. Investigators concluded that a possible wiring problem triggered that disaster which destroyed the 747 over the Atlantic Ocean.

Investigators are also trying to determine what caused fuel tank explosions in a 737 jetliner in the Philippines in 1990 and another 737 in March 2001 in Thailand. Both of those planes were on the ground.



FAA orders Boeing jet inspections

No serious incidents reported as a result of fuel pumps

August 31, 2002 Posted: 3:18 PM EDT (1918 GMT)

FAA orders Boeing jet inspections

From Kathleen Koch and Beth Lewandowski
CNN Washington Bureau


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Federal Aviation Administration Friday issued an emergency order for airlines to inspect more than 1,400 Boeing aircraft for a potentially faulty fuel pump that could cause an explosion.

The FAA said no serious incidents have been reported as a result of the fuel pumps, but inspections have found chafed or misaligned wires in pumps that suddenly stopped working during flights. The damaged wires, in turn, can result in sparks, or arcing.

"Examination of failed pumps showed that arcing had occurred in the pump bearings both inside and outside of the explosion-proof cavity of the pump. Such arcing could result in an ignition source in the fuel tank," the directive says.

The FAA gave airlines four days to check their fleets and change their operating procedures so that fuel is kept in the center fuel tanks, until the problem can be further remedied.

The directive applies to more than 1,400 Boeing 737s, 747s and 757s. The FAA said the total amount of aircraft worldwide affected is about 3,300, and that it has notified civil aviation agencies around the world.

CNN's Kathleen Koch reports that 1,400 Boeing jets are being inspected for defects in fuel pumps. (August 31)

Play video

The FAA said the pumps are made by a Boeing supplier called Hydro-Aire, based in Burbank, California, and were installed in at least 116 jetliners during assembly, beginning in January of this year.

The FAA's "Emergency Airworthiness Directive" also requires U.S. airlines to check:


  • 515 of the Boeing 737 next generation models


  • 247 of the 747s


  • 678 of the 757s

    The FAA wants all the aircraft inspected because some of the potentially defective pumps may have been installed as replacement parts in older aircraft.

    If the Hydro-Aire pump is found to be installed, airlines are being told to make certain they keep enough fuel in the center fuel tank to keep the pump submerged in fuel -- even when banking, climbing or experiencing turbulence.

    Experts who studied the 1996 crash of TWA Flight 800 determined that empty fuel tanks containing fuel vapors are highly volatile. Tests done on full or nearly full fuel tanks did not demonstrate the same volatility.

    The FAA became aware of the fuel pump problem recently, when in three instances pilots noticed a "low-fuel pressure" indication and the pumps stopped working.

    When mechanics took the pumps apart, they discovered chaffed or misaligned wires.

    The incidents involved an Easyjet 737 Next Generation with only 500 flight hours. Mechanics, according to an FAA official, said the wires in the fuel pump were worn down to the point of shorting.

    In addition, a Northwest Airlines 747 was brought into maintenance because of a low-pressure indication, and evidence of chafed wires and arcing was found.

    The third incident involved a China Southern Airlines Boeing jet, which had its pump removed for repair and sent to Hydro-Aire. X-ray inspection showed that wires had been pushed down in the cavity of the pump and were not aligned properly.

    Ron Wojnar, the FAA's deputy director of aircraft certification services, said that during manufacturing of the Hydro-Aire pumps, "wiring that supplies power to the pump is misrouted in some of the 1,250 pumps to the extent it may be caught in the rotating part of the pump."

    If that wiring becomes chafed and is exposed to fuel vapors, Wojnar said, sparking could occur that would ignite the tank.

    The FAA said that in a few weeks it will come out with a more permanent fix -- likely ordering airlines to replace the suspect pump.

    The FAA said at least one carrier, Continental Airlines, has already checked its aircraft and determined none are affected.



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