addresses wiring issues Agency will order steps to improve
By Alan Levin
WASHINGTON -- The Federal Aviation Administration
announced Thursday that it is training its inspectors
and engineers to do a better job of spotting problems
with aircraft wiring, and it asked airlines and manufacturers
to do the same.
Damaged wiring, found most often on older aircraft,
can spark fires and explosions in some cases. In a safety
program begun after TWA Flight 800 crashed off Long
Island in 1996, the FAA found thousands of instances
of damaged or improperly installed wiring in 81 older
Most of the problems were the result of maintenance
on the jets, and the chances of damage increased over
time, said John Hickey, who heads the FAA's aircraft-certification
The agency also said it would begin a long-term effort
to require changes in wiring standards in new aircraft,
maintenance procedures that don't damage wiring and
improved inspections to spot problems. It hopes to write
new rules by 2004, Hickey said.
The FAA's investigation found that ''we needed a safety-enhancement
program that covered a broad cross-section of the system,''
Wiring is suspected of causing two major accidents.
The National Transportation Safety Board concluded that
a spark from damaged wiring most likely downed TWA Flight
800, killing 230 people. Swissair Flight 111 crashed
off Nova Scotia in 1998 after a fire broke out, killing
229. The accident is still under investigation, but
wiring is one of the chief suspects.
Many of the steps announced by the FAA have been sought
by safety advocates and the NTSB. However, some say
the effort falls short.
Edward Block, a wiring expert who was part of the FAA
inspection team, said the agency's new program of relying
mainly on visual inspections is inadequate. More than
100 miles of wire snake through aircraft, most inaccessible
to inspectors. Block also said that certain types of
wire are more dangerous than others but that the FAA
ignored such concerns.
Hickey said the agency is funding efforts to develop
better testing equipment to identify hidden wiring problems.
He said the training effort is an attempt to prevent
the types of problems identified in inspections. For
example, the FAA found that standards for wiring during
aircraft upgrades were lax, which allowed wiring to
be placed where it could be damaged.