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Safety Board Again Calls for Changes to Keep Airliner Fuel Tanks From Exploding
May 15, 2002
WASHINGTON (AP) - Reducing the chance of an airplane fuel tank explosion, blamed for destroying TWA Flight 800, remains a top priority for the National Transportation Safety Board.
Board members, in listing their most-wanted safety improvements on Tuesday, unanimously voted to renew their call for adding nitrogen or another non-flammable gas to fuel tanks.
The board has made the recommendation annually since 1997, the year after TWA Flight 800 exploded after taking off from John F. Kennedy Airport in New York en route to Paris. All 230 people aboard were killed.
The Federal Aviation Administration has ordered new inspections and fuel tank designs, but a joint government-airline industry task force last summer said requiring non-flammable gases would be too expensive, putting the cost of modifying aircraft at $10 billion to $20 billion.
Nevertheless, the FAA has started to test equipment to add non-combustible gases to the fuel tanks.
"The technology is proving more promising than we originally thought," FAA spokesman Les Dorr said.
The safety board's aviation safety director, John Clark, said the costs of such a system were less than expected. In addition, the air displaced by the non-combustible gases could become another source of oxygen for passengers, an unexpected cost-saving, Clark said.
Observed safety board chairwoman Marion Blakey: "It does look as though real progress is being made."
Since its creation in 1967, the board has issued 11,885 recommendations, and 81.6 percent have been followed.
"We are encouraged by the progress that we have seen in the acceptance rate of our recommendations," Blakey said. "However, the board will continue to push federal and state government agencies, industry and private companies for more safety improvements to enhance our transportation system for the benefit of all Americans."
The board's other most-wanted safety improvements for 2002 include:
-Allowing police officers to stop and ticket motorists solely for failing to wear seat belts that could impose both fines and points against a driver's license. In 32 states, police cannot ticket a motorist for not wearing a seat belt unless the driver has been pulled over for another traffic offense, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
-Requiring booster seats for children ages 4-8 in cars and child seats for infants and toddlers on airplanes.
-Developing better systems to detect and remove ice on wings and setting standards to ensure planes can fly after ice forms.
-Redesigning school buses and commercial buses to prevent passengers from being thrown out in accidents.
-Developing automated systems to prevent train collisions.
-Encouraging all states to provide graduated driver's licenses for younger drivers, enact new drunken-driver laws to curb underage drinking and driving, and prevent new young drivers from driving late at night.
-Installing automatic data recording devices in trucks and buses.
-Updating regulations on how long pilots and professional drivers can work.
-Preventing boating accidents.
-Requiring drug and alcohol testing after boating accidents.
-Preventing airplanes, vehicles or people from entering airport runways by mistake.
On the Net: National Transportation Safety Board: http://www.ntsb.gov
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