DOT Issues Final Rule
On Fuel Tank Fire Suppression Systems
Wed, 16 Jul '08
All New Planes Must
Include Systems Within 2 Years
ANN REALTIME UPDATE 07.16.08 1300 EDT:
Confirming earlier reports, on Wednesday
the Department of Transportation issued a mandate
requiring all new aircraft to include technology
designed to significantly reduce the risk of center fuel
tank fires within two years. In addition, passenger
aircraft built after 1991 must be retrofitted with
technology designed to keep center fuel tanks from
"We want to do everything
possible to make sure safety examiners wonít have to
investigate another plane shattered by an exploding
tank," said US Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters
during her announcement of the final rule, along with
Acting FAA Administrator Robert Sturgell. "We canít
change the past, but we can make the future safer for
thousands of air travelers, and this rule does just
The Secretary -- speaking the
day before the 12th anniversary of the crash of TWA
Flight 800, which prompted the requirement -- said the
new rule was needed to help avoid a similar incident.
The rule requires aircraft to have technology to
neutralize or eliminate flammable gasses from fuel tanks
under the center wing of commercial passenger planes.
Peters noted in the wake of the
TWA crash researchers with the Federal Aviation
Administration developed a system that replaces oxygen
in the fuel tank with inert gas, which effectively
prevents the potential ignition of flammable vapors.
Boeing also has developed a similar system.
"Todayís rule will add another
layer of safety reducing the chance that the vapors in
the tank will ignite, even if there is a spark," added
NTSB Chairman Mark Rosenker
also lauded the DOT's action. "The NTSB congratulates
the DOT and the FAA on this important safety
achievement," he said. "From tragedy we draw knowledge
to improve safety and today's announcement represents a
significant step toward avoiding future aviation
accidents of this nature."
Acknowledging strong protests
over the past decade from airlines, which argued the
system's cost was too expensive, Peters noted the
prictag of installing the new technology would range
from $92,000 to $311,000 per aircraft, depending on the
aircraft's size. Peters (below) noted that's as little
as one-tenth of one percent of the cost of a new
US aircraft that will be
retrofitted include approximately 2,730 aircraft --
including 900 Airbus A320 Family airplanes, 50 A330s,
965 Boeing 737s, 60 Boeing 747s, 475 Boeing 757s, 150
Boeing 767s and 130 Boeing 777s.
"I recognize that this is a
challenging time for commercial aviation," Secretary
Peters said. "But there is no doubt that another crash
like TWA 800 would pose a far greater challenge."
Peters made the announcement
while addressing accident investigators at the National
Transportation Safety Boardís (NTSB) Training Facility
in Virginia, where remains of the TWA Boeing are kept as
an educational tool for safety investigators.
0001 EDT: Using
the wreckage of TWA Flight 800 as a backdrop, the
Department of Transportation will announce Wednesday
that nearly all commercial airliners operating in the
United States must be fitted with fuel inerting devices
within 10 years.
The FAA and National
Transportation Safety Board announced the rare joint
safety briefing Tuesday, but provided few details.
USA Today reports the DOT will
make the formal announcement in the Virginia hangar
housing wreckage from the Boeing 747-100 that exploded
off Long Island on July 17, 1996, killing all 230
onboard. The NTSB determined the airliner was brought
down by an explosion caused by fumes in the 747's
near-empty center tank.
When it made that determination
in 2000, the NTSB also stated most other large airliners
were susceptible to such explosions, and recommended all
jets be equipped with systems to stop fuel tank fires.
That plan was sharply criticized by airlines, which said
such measures would be prohibitively expensive.
A debate has raged ever since
between government officials and airline
representatives. A comparatively cheaper alternative to
tank extinguishers was developed in 2002, in which tanks
could be flooded with nitrogen to prevent explosive
fumes from forming... but despite
a 2004 FAA order
calling for such systems to be installed within seven
has been done to enforce that rule.
The Office of Management and
Budget reportedly approved the fuel tank rule last
month, according to the paper. It will apply to all
large airliners built after 1991 in commercial service.