Fire in the Sky


Original in Black - Critique in Blue - Sampson commentary in RED

There's Flight Safety (see the following URL) and there's Aviation Safety.

Pilots are responsible for Flight Safety - i.e. that's all about airmanship, experience, adeptness, fitness, CRM team-work, decision-making, currency, knowledge, alertness and handling skills.

Aviation safety is all about men (and women) in the industry, licencing, materiel, design, motivation, deregulation, passenger's rights, cost/benefit ratios, insurance, security issues, HAZMAT, airport design, instrument approach design, air traffic control, fuel quality control, maintenance quality assurance, communications, NavAIDS, aircraft design issues (such as system integrity, backup and redundancy), accident and incident investigation and reporting but, most importantly, regulation.

Regulation means the right of everybody involved NOT to be just doing their own thing. Deregulation (a very poor descriptive term) just meant that a lot more people would be allowed to do all the above things - but still correctly and in accordance with the rules.          Flight Safety Issues (graphically portrayed)

I know it's always easy to criticize and particularly, if I have the

transcript on my lap, while those attending that Coulthart show had to tell

their story under the headlights.

Barry Mews found it very factual and to the point. I don't (so far). But

your response might change that!

You were the first to tell me that only FACTS count. Looking at the wire

issue from IASA's perspective I would be the last to deny that this is the

You know I talked to KLM about the Memorandum and further follow-up. They didn't deny the facts, but they couldn't resist to tell me that they fly with MD-11s and B-737s, 747s and 767s for many, many years, and that, so far, they’ve had no smoke-in-the-cockpit. Any airline that smugly leans back upon its safety record is "cruisin for a bruisin". The raison d’etre of the KLM Memo was "fore-warned is fore-armed" but the deeper under-lying threat was that: if you (KLM) also have one of these accidents you will have no excuse, you will be totally culpable and liable. Even better, their crash ratio is zero point zero, as far as a/c malfunctioning is concerned. They are aware that a pro-active policy is essential, but they will not look for a dark cat in a dark room. All wire concerns are outplayed by brilliant crash statistics.

  • Kapton insulation (wide-spread and deadly)
  • metallized mylar combustible thermal acoustic blanket linings. They missed out by a month (according to Swissair) due to HB-IWF having received its heavy maintenance a month before the Boeing Service Bulletin came out.
  • improper airline level modifications [IFE]- foolishly and criminally plumbed into critical cockpit busses. The state of aircrew QRF manuals and checklists did not reflect the impact of this wiring upon "smoke-in-the-cockpit" drills.
  • foolish checklist procedures (aircon smoke then smoke & fumes - fire’s a-burning throughout these optimistic trouble-shooting delays)
  • Airline philosophies that (prior to sr111) tended to question (ridicule?) pilots for "premature" diversions for sniffs of smoke. A Swissair philosophy that emphasised completion of the checklists as a first priority (Teutonic single-mindedness?)
  • unresolved passenger panic quandaries (in the aftermath of sr111)
  • unresolved passenger rage incidents and policies that impinge upon security.
  • lack of proper electrical redundancy
  • deficient smoke-masks and goggles
  • two-man crew task saturation in extremis (no flight engineers) – CRM aspects
  • nepotism, cronyism, patronage and abdication of authority and responsibility in the regulatory authority (EVAS etc).
  • flawed wiring installations carried out by companies with doubtful aviation-related credentials.
  • flawed wiring stemming from over-handling of cockpit drop-down overhead panels.
  • wiring looms that run adjacent to (or cross over) high pressure oxygen piping.
  • easily fixable CVR/DFDR deficiencies that lead to 4 to 10 year delays in investigation outcomes. Recent nonsensical "fixes" to that situation.
  • Ten year delays in the B737 rudder PCU fixes and reports from NTSB. Denial by the FAA that a fix will do more than introduce "maintenance error" incidents. Initial "red-herring" claims that each accident or incident was attributable to pilot error or wake turbulence upsets.
  • a powerful lobby in Congress (that is funded by the airlines, manufacturers and other vested interests) and which has competition, profits and market-share as its bottom-lines. All these factors either passively (or in some cases actively) work against aviation safety.
  • A US Air Traffic Control System that is obsolescent, underfunded and frequently unable to cope with the post-deregulation increases in traffic density. On the other end of the scale, Third World ATC that is downright unsafe (but through which Western Airliners have to transit and operate).
  • An ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) that is impotent because it can never get member nations to agree upon contentious issues (eg Left and Right of airlane step-off centre-line tracking that is being done informally by Western airlines as a critical safety measure) (eg non-carriage of TCAS by many freight carriers, US and others, or by many Third World Airlines).(eg Slow mandating of life-saving EGPWS equipment).
  • Questionable operating procedures (fuel-dump or land overweight?)
  • Simulator Training deficiencies (smoke in the cockpit)
  • Questionable maintenance procedures (just what must you check after your electrician "murphies" the bus-tie sensor relay install and causes a massive short?)
  • Bland denials that there are any problems – grudgingly followed by partial "fixes" - that they then claim have been "in the pipe-line" all along.
  • A geriatric jet inspection policy that actually cuts in just before they’re due to be pensioned off or sold off to the Third World.
  • A policy of selling off your "problem jets" with PVC wiring to Second & Third World operators (that you’d normally avoid like the plague – but may find yourself flying on -due to Alliances and code-sharing)
  • Flight crews who are so afraid of losing their jobs that they simply attend to "Flight Safety" in their own cockpits and leave "Aviation Safety" to their bosses.
  • "Bosses" who are so cowed by their accountants, bean-counters and stock-holders that they look to cut safety corners by contracting out maintenance to Third Worlders and shonky backyarders (and by discrediting conscientious FAA inspectors).
  • Airline Management that refuse to see safety as a selling point. They prefer gambling and inflight entertainment systems to safety counter-measures like EVAS or a virgin bus (even after a major accident).
  • Data-bases that are designed to mislead, camouflage and conceal trends whilst at the same time covering themselves by admitting to "some deficiencies".
  • Smarmy, smooth-talking, PR oriented, mendacious FAA front-men (like McSweeney) who have no technological knowledge or interest, but excel at duping the public with double-talk, techno-babble and misrepresentations.
  • A universal trend towards so automating airliners for efficiency that even experienced pilots feel that they are sometimes "totally out of the loop" and behind developments. This is the real accident trend head-liner. (eg the Sabah A320 accident).
  • Seizure upon convenient, digestible accident causes that can be isolatable to an airline or type aircraft or particular crew (Valujet, Silkair) – so conveniently there is no costly universality to address
  • A post-crash litigation system that puts the burden of proof upon the dead passenger and mounts a formidable team of lawyers to protect "the system".
  • An ignorant public who are easily duped into believing that ticket pricing includes a component for the best safety money can buy. Few will have heard that that concept was phased out with the introduction of deregulation.
  • Congressional emphasis upon passengers’ rights, inconveniences and other distractions – an artifice that essentially side-lines aviation safety issues.
  • However, being in the arena with 'high public servants', supervising institutions, airlines, aircraft manufacturers et all, needs more than just some table talk and digging into always the same sources that reveal hardly anything factual (in terms of evidence). I think this is the dilemma that dates back 16 years ago, when young and vigorous Ed Block started his crusade. So far we still have the same wires on board. And so far, even reputable airlines are fearlessly operating 'Kaptonized Tefzeled Poly-Xed' aircraft. The billions of dollars of investments involved are exposed to cost/benefit analysis, crash ratio, underwriters' policies, etc. While we have altogether too little SCIENTIFIC fact to prove that another bunch of billions are needed to change all this. If the technical data is there (and I believe it is) to simply measure the RISK FACTORS - then that should be sufficient to focus attention on what needs to be changed. Let’s re-learn the lessons of history lest we repeat them. (if they’d known then, what they knew later, about the Shuttle’s solid rocket booster seal’s flaws, would there have been a Challenger disaster? No, because it was a high profile program). The evidence was there ten years ago that there was a B737 rudder problem (a design flaw). Ten years (and a few accidents) later they’ve acknowledged that there indeed was, there’s been an interim fix, more incidents, an NTSB report that calls for a rudder re-design and an immediate FAA denial that that’s necessary. This farcical process of deduce, deny, delay, dispute and divert attention is simply a quasi-legal mode of operation. (eg: If I simply choose to do nothing about little Johnny’s drug problem and just pasionately blame his teachers, his friends, the neighbourhood, police inactivity and the pushers – until he’s turned 18, then it’s no longer my problem. So, really I did all I could – but actually what I did was abdicate responsibility by deferring affirmative action. The problem with Kapton could be accommodated if there was a means of getting the power off the wires (i.e. a virgin bus). If you identify and quantify a risk factor then the search should immediately be for a valid fix. – not a simple counter-claim that amounts to saying: "But the body count doesn’t warrant spending that sort of money yet". In the first 20 years of deregulation they’ve finally reached the point where they can say, quite ignorantly in my view: "Well last year not one US passenger was killed on a US airline". It’s cloud cuckoo/Alice in Wonderland reasoning and I believe they are about to come down to earth with a resounding thud. We can't simply yell and say "it's wrong, it's killing people". Should I deny that I find it a miracle that since the Sept 2 crash in Nova Scotia 'all is going fairly well in the air'? You could say that the pilots are so well cognizant now of the Kapton threat that they are erring very much on the safe side. In other words "Flight Safety" awareness has taken over the aspects of risk management that "Aviation Safety" should be addressing. Here’s a typical example of that sort of risk management. When I was in Vietnam as a Huey pilot we used to do informal exchanges with the US Army’s 135th Helicopter Assault Company. That gave the US Army Warrant Officer Pilots (and some Aussie RAN Helo pilots seconded to them) a chance to see a different Province (III Corps instead of II Corps areas) and it also meant that they got some R&R in Vung Tau (an old French Beach resort). I found that, while I was flying with the 135th, you had to carry with you a hip-flask of hydraulic oil. Each time you landed and the rotor blades stopped you had to get up on the roof and top up the blade-grip reservoirs (which were always empty because their seals were shot and they couldn’t get replacements). Whenever I was in Saigon flying the Brigadier’s hack I used to stay at General Abram’s personal VIP pilots’ villa. They told me they had no problem getting blade-grip reservoir seals, that line units were often short because the same maintenance and supply officers who looked after the jeeps and half-tracks were responsible for the chopper spares. Well a few months later my old mate Tony Casadio (of Mt Gambier, SA) died when the jeezus nut came off and they lost their main rotor in a gunship. They’d been hot-refuelling and rearming with the rotor turning all day because it was mini-TET -and there was lots of action all over. What a pointless death. I flew my chopper up to their Black Horse Base the next day, singled out the Company logistician and told him he had blood on his hands. He couldn’t have given a rats what I thought because he just showed me the paperwork that was stamped: "nil stocks". Each time I flew past Casadio’s wreck I thought how difficult would it be to actually find the bastard responsible and kill him. Of course in an organization the size of the US Army it was impossible. Those frustrations remind you of anything?

"Aviation safety" is, in the current deregulatory climate, all about:


I would like your comments. Plain and simple, as always.


Sampson commentary in BLUE - originator's questions/comments/criticisms in purple - transcript in black

Full Transcript "Fire in the Sky"

ROSS COULTHART, REPORTER: The modern passenger jet is truly one of the great technological achievements of the 20th century. Most of us take it for granted that these leviathans the size of office towers soar at nearly a thousand kilometres an hour, 12km above the earth — carrying hundreds of passengers and cargo to ports around the world.

It is also one of the safest ways to travel. The latest figures show that across Australia in 1997 there were no accidents in 730,000 hours of flying by large passenger planes. That’s a level of safety in which the aviation industry can take considerable pride. Sydneysider Max Predeth and his wife Marge both worked in the industry and now, in retirement, they still enjoy watching the big jets leave Sydney Airport.

MAX PREDETH: We sort of watch the plane and it goes out … we just look at each other after 11 minutes.

REPORTER: You hold your breath?


REPORTER: Nearly three years ago they were hit by a tragedy that forced them to confront another less known fact about the international aviation industry — that people die and get injured on commercial aircraft every year in accidents that could have been prevented. Eleven minutes into the flight of TWA Flight 800 from JFK International Airport in New York, on a warm clear July night in 1996, the 747 suddenly disappeared from controllers’ radar screens. 230 people died, including Marge Predeth’s sister, Vera Feeney, who was taking her 17-year-old daughter Deirdre to Paris, as a graduation present.

PREDETH: And we were watching on the news broadcasts and I always remember seeing the burning wreckage on the sea and saying to Margy I don’t think anyone’s going to survive from that. Those poor people.

REPORTER: And then sadly you found out …

PREDETH: And then the next morning, 12 hours later, we got the phone call from Ireland to say that they were on the plane.

REPORTER: Investigators have yet to piece together what downed Flight 800 but they admit they’re focusing on one major suspect — a catastrophic short-circuit in the hundreds of kilometres of wiring that power the aircraft. A fatal arc.

What angers the Predeth family — and should concern anyone who flies — is that it is now emerging that experts have repeatedly warned about the dangers of one type of wiring on TWA 800 for more than a decade but the safety regulators chose not to act.

BILL HOGAN: Well in the worst case, it can cause fatal crashes — I mean there’s no question about that. We have some incidents in the past in the military where this type of wire is cited as a probable cause of crashes that killed people. Facts due to faulty wire? When in the past? Which type of wire? Who cited? How many crashes? How many injuries? Even in a Senate inquiry you’d only ever get to post this sort of data in an annex to a report. In a TV Documentary you cannot get down into the nitty-gritty.

REPORTER: The designers of the 747 jet originally intended it to have a limited life-span of about 60,000 hours. Are these 60,000 hours formally documented? I didn’t read this before. If so, where? By exceeding 60,000 hours this would limited Boeing’s liability. Unfortunately, just like engine overhaul periods, in-service experience can enable a manufacturer to apply for life extensions or extend servicing periods. Currently a number of airlines have justified extensions to ETOPS (twin-eng overwater tracking time limits) by citing in-service experience (of failure rates that well undershoot the originally specified criteria). It makes for more straight-line routeing and decreases fuel and ticket costs. It’s made the B767 viable on many long oceanic legs that it couldn’t before legally fly. Across the world, hundreds of jumbos that have exceeded that limit are still flying. Have flight cycle logs been studied to testify this? See comment above. Much aviation inspection is now done on an IRAN basis (inspect and repair as necessary). If an airframe is flogged off to an African operator you can guarantee they’ll juggle the figures just to keep it in service. It’s a jungle out there. In October last year, in a major back-flip on its previous assertions that wiring was not a problem, the world’s most influential air safety body — the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) — announced it’s developing plans to improve procedures for inspections of the wiring on commercial aircraft. Vernon Grose is a former board member on the National Transportation Safety Board, America’s air accident investigation body. He’s an outspoken critic of the FAA, accusing the safety regulators and the industry of having a blind-spot with aircraft wiring.

VERNON GROSE, FORMER US NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD MEMBER: One of the problems is that once it’s in there it’s just out of sight, out of mind. It doesn’t make any difference if they would be in sight. See below.

REPORTER: Now, historically, has any attention been given to the idea of monitoring wiring in an aircraft before now? Additional question should be: and if so, which technical, reliable methods are available to airline engineers to monitor wires both in accessible and in non-accessible areas? If you’re saying Armin Bruning has all the answers, I’d beg to differ. His wiring "physical" is like a doctor giving you a physical today and saying: "Well you appear to be in good health but your life-style questionnaire would indicate that that’s more luck than good management. You’d better come and see me again in three months". Well, he never sees you again because your coronary infarct (due to clogged arteries and fatty intake) gave you a disabling stroke a few weeks later -and now you’re in intensive care on life support.

GROSE: It really hasn’t been and that’s a thing of great concern to me.

ED BLOCK, FORMER US DEFENCE DEPARTMENT EXPERT: Ninety percent of the aircraft wiring out there is not only suspect but proven to be faulty. This needed to be explained and evidenced on the spot. Why not 60, 70 or 80 %? On part of the fleet TKT insulated wire has been installed. Then we would need to know if (better performing) TKT wire is adjacent/mixed with X-Tefzel wire. Ed Block is better qualified to answer that – Ed may be referring to both insulation and installation as well as wire-mixing and bundling policies. You could add to that the fact that any wiring routed through certain areas (and via close proximity to metallized mylar and HP oxygen pipes) is a risky proposition. Routeing high and low voltage wires in the same tight bundle is asking for induced and stray voltages. It’s a jungle out there.

REPORTER: Ed Block used to be the US Defence Department’s top expert on aircraft wiring, and only recently was appointed to the FAA taskforce that’s assessing wiring problems in old planes. He says the FAA’s response is too little too late. Block claims aircraft manufacturers never even considered what happens when bundled wires age and chaff. EB should then have access to old aircraft to investigate – together with other experts – status of wire. Without such investigation no facts can be presented. I agree most heartedly. The revelation that Ed’s been recently granted (then belatedly denied) such access (for specious reasons) came too late to be included in the show (although I flashed a copy of the Email off to Rossco, Nick and mounted it immediately on my web-site).

BLOCK: Imagine on an aircraft where there’s a bundle of wires in close proximity in close proximity to what? Metallized insulation blankets? (he was conveying the hazards of bundling –which is the practice of routeing disparate wires together for convenience or out of necessity). That is as against "looms" or "harnesses" which refers to wires that are sourced similarly and should logically be panduit-strapped or tie-lokked together). and due to age, vibration, you have some of the insulation removed. The amount of energy available there for that momentary contact of metal to metal conductors touching in those two wires is incredible. And you can see it can not only ignite inflammable material, it can cause all kinds of power surges on equipment. You’re making a mini lightning bolt. Ticking faults?? (once again, there’s all sorts of permutations and combinations of wiring-induced faults that you could cover – but ticking faults at best produce radio-static, interfere with NAVAIDS or at worst cause unselected flap/slat deployments, inflight reverse thrust-bucket deployment, autopilot disconnects etc). Ticking faults are a major cause of "NFF (No fault found)" because you need inflight vibration and airborne airframe flexure to get the chafeing etc. You’d need a series to fit all this in and you’d rapidly lose viewer interest.

REPORTER: And as happened to this Federal Express jet in New York two years ago — smoke and fire on a flight is terrifying especially because there’s so little those on board can do about it. EVAS, Virgin Bus. Yes it’s a pity Rossco couldn’t have done a stopover in Hawaii to talk to Bert but those damn Channel Nine Managers and bean-counters are such a tight ---‘d lot. Virgin Bus: I had to opt out of a suggested Rossco interview because I was hospitalized for a major op.

REPORTER: It took 18 minutes for the burning plane — a DC10 — to get down from 33,000 feet to Stewart Airport in New York.

The five crew members only just made it — the jet was completely destroyed. Investigators still haven’t discovered what caused the fire — and although extreme, this is not an isolated instance. The FAA’s own records show incidents of unexplained smoke in the cabin or cockpit have led to an unscheduled landing of a commercial airliner in the United States at least once a week. There is surprisingly little, official information on wire cause available. The FAA keep their wire record as low as possible. Blake and Cahill reports are not in their database. Should have been a point to make. Data-base discrepancies (for that great unwashed public) are real yawn factors. Pertinent but dastardly - I know.

Here in Australia, the thousands of passengers who fly or out of major airports like Sydney every day can take some solace from the fact that our domestic passenger airliners are extremely safe. Qantas and Ansett fly the same aircraft as KLM, United, FedEx, etc. So why are Australian airlines extremely safe? Mostly good weather, strict regulations, three-man crewing in QANTAS and low traffic densities. It’s also a statistical fact that fewer aircraft mean fewer prangs. Apart from that, world fleet is not affected by rising rate of aircraft disasters due to wire. We would need many more crashes more frequently to change the FAA picture. 1998 was accident-zero in the U.S. Although the statistics are manipulated (foreign airline a/c are excluded: sr111 is one of them), they make a strong force against the wire issue. See my comments elsewhere (lack of accidents does not necessarily mean it is a safe operation) But even here the Bureau of Air Safety Investigation’s own database records at least 30 unexplained instances of smoke or fumes on large commercial airliners in the last 10 years, many of which forced the planes to call an emergency and land. The obvious concern is — was the cause of those still unexplained incidents the wiring? It could be ANYTHING. That’s the problem! I agree that to effectively find the wire guilty you’ve got to further compartmentalize the data-bases. It’s the old story: How does the accident investigator discriminate between wiring insulation burnt in post-crash fires and burning wires that caused a crash? Embrittlement is one way but civil accident investigators are only just getting onto that (and military accidents are rarely gone into in that depth).

TOLLER: If you start talking as you’re talking about the really major concerns. They are major concerns. You have to be very careful not to be too precipitous and not to act too quickly. You’ve got to really make sure that the evidence is there because the implications of what you might have to do to the aircraft fleets of the world are enormous. Evidence is hard to get, and if it shows up, it is drowned in the self-denial process. Toller recognizes that his staff doesn’t have the ability to evaluate the wire issue from a technical point of view. He therefore can’t say "…to be very careful not to be too precipitous and not to act too quickly." Because this opinion is also based on what the FAA dictates him. Most aviation accidents in Australia are General Aviation or commuter/ charter ops so there is very little airliner crash expertise here. BASI does do good trend analysis but that’s very different to what Vic and his boys are up to at Shearwater. All Mick Toller was trying to expound was his view (bureaucrat’s hat on) that you cannot afford to leap to conclusions. Amazingly it is a view that is shared by many pilots – every-one must wait for the accident report to come out (no matter how far down-track and how many accidents later that is). You’d be amazed at how much hate-mail I get – but I answer it all and I’m very thick-skinned.

REPORTER: Mick Toller heads Australia’s air safety regulator, CASA: the Civil Aviation Safety Authority. As you’ll see though, the dilemma is that the body with most influence over Australian initiatives on air safety is not CASA but America’s FAA and the airline manufacturers themselves.

Doesn’t it make you just a little bit concerned that they are themselves so influenced by concerns other than the primacy of passenger safety?

TOLLER: At the end of the day, bringing an airliner into Australia, buying an airliner, you’ve got to be dependent on the expertise that is over there — the expertise that’s both with manufacturers and the safety authorities. That’s the lack of technology, science, resources in CASA. So this also means that CASA’s opinion is not worth a dime in case of wire. You hit that nail squarely on the head. They’re just an FAA outstation with all the status and influence of an outhouse.

REPORTER: But increasingly, it’s those same American safety regulators that many experts claim are excessively influenced by the aviation industry. Vernon Grose is one of America’s most respected risk management specialists — he’s advised NASA on the space program. He’s investigated air accidents from the inside for the National Transportation Safety Board. He’s not known for rash comments but he’s very worried that America’s FAA and NTSB are not looking closely enough at the mounting numbers of those unexplained incidents involving smoke on passenger aircraft.

VERNON GROSE: Over the years they can say ‘Well, where are the accidents where wiring was a factor?’. Well they don’t count the things that should be [counted]. For example when you have an emergency landing due to smoke in the cockpit, a lot of those should be traced to wiring but don’t get classified that way. It’s not a matter of counting, but of finding the cause(s). For regular airlines this should be not at all that difficult. Airplanes with smoke-in-the-cockpit having landed safely can be inspected, and the cause(s) found. We don’t talk here about sr111’s impact leaving only the smallest bits and pieces to investigate, and charred/sooted wire without stamps visible, etc. Do you honestly think you’d have heard about the fire in the Swissair MD11 in Bangkok if it hadn’t been for sr111?

Let’s assume that KLM had 4 smoke-in-the-cockpit incidents. Don’t you think they would investigate, figure out why, report to FAA and the a/c manufacturer, and would not rest until the questions are responded to? Like to think so -but in my experience I’ve seen (and necessarily been a servile party to) loads of cover-ups. Hierarchical organizations (espec military and airlines) like to fix things in-house and don’t want their dirty linen laundered in public. It’s human nature and an inbuilt characteristic of superiors – defensiveness. Look at the Squadron Commander who suggested all his EA6B Prowler crews destroy their low-flying VCR tapes after the Italian cable-car accident. It was indeed unusual that he was reported (and sacked) for advocating obstruction of justice. Perhaps that means that, in a non-commercial organization, there’s more inherent integrity.

REPORTER: Why not?

GROSE: Well because it’s again, I think, a political issue to some extent. They don’t want to look that far, you see, to find out that it’s wiring. To what extent? Who are they? Why not? (Because there is [a] no possibility to inspect wire adequately and [b] because it’s too expensive to have it all replaced). Vernon’s got it right, he knows how the system works. Obfuscate, prevaricate, plausible deniability –or if you blow it having tried all that, resign (like half the FAA hierarchy did after the Valujet crash). The only FAA/NTSB officer to resign with honour was Mary Schiavo. The rest were guilty on all counts – of not doing what was necessary, knowing that the Valujet Operation was shambolic, yet shuffling off responsibility via their committee systems. You know how it works – anyone who stands up and says the unspeakable gets relegated to a broom-closet to count ouija-boards. There’s been a recent example of that in Alaska (Patrick’s in close touch with that lady).

REPORTER: Or more accurately — the insulation that covers wiring in modern aircraft. This is what a lot of the concern is all about — it’s a product called Kapton, the trade name for the thin coating of insulation on this wire made by Du Pont — known chemically as aromatic polyamide film. Even hairline cracks in this wire can, under certain conditions, have frightening results. In this test the cracked wire was exposed to the sort of moist and salty conditions many jet aircraft experience. Kapton is just a brand name. All the wires in the Cahill and Blake reports are suspect. The name of the manufacturer is irrelevant, the type of wire is relevant. Additionally: different types in one a/c. Yes, but to start making all these subtle distinctions once again brings in the yawn factor and has the otherwise-rivetted audience shuffling towards the kitchen, checking their watches for the footy-start-times or channel-flicking.

Kapton wire can be found in about half of the world’s passenger jets, including many planes operated by Australia’s Qantas and Ansett. Both airlines told Sunday they have stopped using Kapton wire when they replace wiring in their aircraft. And both say they’ve never had an incident on one of their aircraft involving the arcing of Kapton wire. Replacing wire yes, but bits and pieces only. This is virtually the same story as was told by McSweeny in a TV debate about wire and ageing aircraft. It gives a wrong impression to the public. Yes I also made this important point in my critique which I’m sure you got. It was an unfortunate choice of words.

The Seattle-based Boeing Corporation maintains Kapton and other insulation like it is safe. They can’t say something else. It told Sunday in this statement that it began phasing out the installation of Kapton in the pressurised zone on 747s and 767s in 1991. Lufthansa stated they prohibited Kapton wire in unpressurized and energy essential zones on their Airbus a/c. In fact I’ve got an Email from Lufthansa that says categorically that they do not utilize powered (i.e. electrical) Kapton. They only use it on data-busses (which is reasonable). McDonnell Douglas started phasing it out on their planes in 1995. Boeing admit that the wire they’re now using — TKT — was developed to address US military concerns about Kapton. I don’t think so! It was initiated by US commercial airline not willing to accept a/c with Kapton installed. TWA in 1977 already. Correct, I’ve received Patrick’s very indignant Email on this subject (and mounted it). It’s all part of the lie, prevaricate, obfuscate and: "sorry, I must have been confused when I said that". (I have no recollection of telling that lie).

But while the manufacturers and the airlines downplay the problem, the dilemma for safety regulators is that they admit they don’t even have the technical know-how to even predict when this wiring could become a problem. To get back to Vernon’s statements: it’s therefore pretty useless to pretend (better) safety by frequent/close wire inspection. Vernon’s right again (in fact, he makes a business out of it).

BLOCK: As of October 1, the FAA announced that there was currently no means available to discern a catastrophic failure of wire in advance of the accident investigation. That leads us to the NTSB who do the post-crash. The post-crash investigators rely on what’s called the Party system. There are designated engineering reps from the actual aircraft manufacturers that they’re supposedly objectively looking at the evidence. I think that’s correct. No means are currently available to discern a catastrophic failure. We can only go back to Pat Price’s ideas about ticking fault sensors to be installed. That’s fairly it. If we accept the facts as they are, let’s then go to EVAS and Virgin Bus as the only alternative to a crash caused by faulty wire. I agree. True aviation and flight safety revolves around fall-back positions. Right now crews and pax have got to be prepared to "die like a man" – because the checklisting is foolish and the fall-back positions are few and far between. Fire in the air is a terrible, short-winded (yet lingering) way to die. By contrast, engine fires are well provided for. You simply cut the fuel, oil and hydraulics and fire charge one (then if necessary, charge two) of extinguishant. Even if that doesn’t put it out, it’s full power on all other engines, lower the nose and blow it out with dynamic pressure – absolutely guaranteed. Compare that with the fuselage fire options that come with the mandatory extras: choking toxic smoke (and no pax protection from that), recirculation of that smoke via the aircon packs, failure of internal critical systems, combustible non-isolatable hydraulic oil and HP oxy, loads of plastics to burn, dense blinding continuous smoke, pilot incapacitation, passenger panic and worst of all – repeatability, because there’s not much left for the investigators to hang their hats on.

Did you realize, by the way, that a high percentage of aircon air is re-circulated as a fuel saving measure? In the BAe 146 it’s as high as 50%. If it recirculates the air don’t you think it will also recirc the smoke?

REPORTER: So we just have to trust the manufacturers to own up if they find a bit of dud wiring? Don’t we always? First of all we still have no specified industry standard a/c manufacturers have to meet on wire. There’s only the generalities of FAR25. Whether a particular insulation’s characteristics meets that is a very subjective (testing integrity dependent) thing. Second there is lack of physical inspection due to FAA budget cuts. Thirdly, FAA inspectors can’t beat a/c industry in terms of technological expertise. It’s the chicken and egg syndrome again. If the Canadians find sr111 wire guilty then there’ll be action taken. If not, there’ll be nought done of any consequence.

BLOCK: Right, and in a sense you’re asking this objector to put away his retirement stock portfolio and to be just totally independent and to be working for the US taxpayers at that moment.

REPORTER: What’s extraordinary about this debate is that while about half of the world’s passenger jets are still loomed with Kapton wire, the US military has actually stopped putting Kapton in new aircraft and is removing it from many of its planes — including the US president’s own plane, Air Force One. As long ago as the early 1980s the US Navy did its own research to see just how destructive Kapton can be.

In October, the man who did these tests for the Navy, retired officer Bob Dunham, went public on US television to reveal how he tried to warn the Federal Aviation Administration about the danger he saw in Kapton. Again, the Blake and Cahill reports are as clear on this as one could imagine. These are their own reports! True, but first-hand testimony is more convincing.

{FILE FOOTAGE DUNHAM: What we really wanted the FAA to do was to put out an air directive saying ‘You’ve got to look at Kapton. It’s dangerous. You have to do certain things to it. You’ve got to redouble your efforts when the aircraft comes in for inspection'.

20-20 reporter: You wanted this in 198…?

Dunham: This was probably 85, 86 — no later than that.

20-20 reporter: 12 years ago?

Dunham: Yes.

20-20 reporter: And was there ever such a directive?

Dunham: I never saw it. END FILE FOOTAGE}

REPORTER: Former Defence Department wiring guru Ed Block told us he also voiced his concerns to his bosses in the 1980s after seeing repeated military reports about wiring problems in aircraft.

BLOCK: I was privy to all the inside information in regards to unsatisfactory reports and alerts about different insulation types of wire. And in 1978 there was a speed letter that came out from the Navy saying that the type of wiring that was on TWA 800 was found to prematurely age in a laboratory and to cause radial cracking and they wanted it purged from the inventory.

REPORTER: The military discovered the problem wasn’t just with Kapton insulation. In 1983 the US Navy raised safety concerns about a similar brand of aircraft wire insulation called Poly-X. It asked for an extra 360 million US dollars to rewire its F14s because 150 of them — the bulk of them wired with Poly-X.— had crashed. The official line from the FAA in Washington is that the problems the military has had with Kapton can’t be compared with commercial aircraft — as its director of aircraft certification, Tom McSweeney, told American ABC News. Boeing told and questioning airline that military a/c is small sized, and that because of high vibration level in very confined areas (wire headroom extremely limited) military a/c wire issues are in quite another league compared to civil/commercial aircraft. Operation under moisture, sand and high stress conditions were not mentioned as such. The differentiation between military and airline ops is very much a red herring. Military airframes fly as little as a tenth the flight hours of commercial ones and their maintenance is not as rushed (i.e. as subject to revenue-foregoing down-time pressures). The only valid point may be that fighter aircraft are subject to higher g forces (airframe flexure) but this is allowed for in their initial design. Airliners are more vulnerable to Kapton’s malignant characteristics because of airframe service life, greater lengths of inaccessible wiring runs, commercial pressures to conduct mandatory servicing only, hurried "fixes" to meet departure slot times, pressures on crews to "carry" unserviceabilities that should really be downing discrepancies (eg Valujet 592’s continuous CB pops). Military crews just don’t do that sort of thing outside warlike ops. And, in addition, you will find that the USAF and USN crew-chief systems means that a particular individual "owns" the aircraft that carries his name on the side. He takes great pride in its condition and "loans" it to the pilot (or crew) for their sortie. The Services long ago found that that was the way to go ….engender the pride and reap the benefits. By comparison any Tom, Dick or Harry can service an airline jet. Does he have the same (Squadron style) pride in his work? Does he go that extra mile? Nope.

{FILE FOOTAGE EX ABC AMERICA: McSweeney: They have a very unique environment. We just have not seen data that shows that same condition exists in civil aircraft. END FILE FOOTAGE } See what Boeing told that airline (previous remark). You could write a book about what Tom McSweeney hasn’t seen. "There are none so blind as those who cannot see." From what I’ve read of his (and his predecessor’s interviews) I think you’d get more sense out of a cyborg.

BILL HOGAN: The data are in the worst case crashes like this that kill people. And in other cases forced emergency landings of aircraft. That’s all there for anyone who wants to find.

REPORTER: Bill Hogan is head investigator for the Washington DC-based Center for Public Integrity — it’s a non-profit investigative lobby group that recently published a major report on the politics of airline safety. His group combed through thousands of pages of FAA and military reports obtained under Freedom of Information laws. Hogan contends the government’s own data gives the lie to distinctions between the military’s problems with wiring and commercial planes. I see no presentation of facts here. Going through thousands of pages should have given much more than what Bill is saying here. The authority of what Hogan says is incumbent in his title because the Centre for Public Integrity is a very well respected apolitical watchdog. There was no real need for him to flourish sheafs of paper, however sensationalist that might be graphically. If anyone wants to know more, they do run a public information service and their link is on my site and available via the Ninemsn links.

HOGAN: There is a difference of course, any sensible person says there is a difference. Do you ignore the military’s experience because of that? No! One of the fatal crashes in the US Airforce, Officer Ted Harnival. This was a plane that I think had been in the air only for like 70 hours — its total flight time. This was not an ageing aircraft. This was not an aircraft flown in the trying conditions of an aircraft carrier over and over and over again. No, but it was just one aircraft. The Harduval F16 crash was just the notorious one of many F16’s attributable to faulty wiring (as were an unknown number of the F14 Tomcats that went down). Notorious because his widow pursued it to a USAF admission. Dunham would have more concrete facts and statistics there.

REPORTER: And was his accident attributed to faulty wiring?


REPORTER: If anything, Ed Block argues, the problems the US military encountered with Kapton and other wires could become more acute in commercial planes because passenger jets have a far longer shelf life. But much more wire headroom compared to military a/c (see previous remark). In an airliner, don’t forget that there is a much greater mileage of wire. With Kapton the risk is directly proportional to the length. The amount of wire, because of seat-back entertainment systems and its wiring up and through removable seats, is much more vulnerable to damage. In fact, when you look at an airliner stripped for heavy maint, just about all the guts of it is out and it’s a hollow shell. Re-connecting all that wiring makes for an increased wiring risk factor.

BLOCK: The military wires which, like I said, are used as prototypes for the ultimate use in the commercial realm are rated at 10,000 hours. That is their sole reason for being and for lasting. So they test for 10,000 hours. The commercial realm is using them up to 93,000 hours, the same wires. Are these 93,000 hours documented as well, also in relation to 60,000 hours of a/c lifespan? In the Western hemisphere aircraft in-service hours are religiously documented. Life extension of airframes is done "on condition" (non-destructive inspection, Xrays, eddy current proofing, acid etch crack detection, borescoping – there’s no end to the ways and means of ratifying structural integrity). However the wire, as part of that permanent structure, is ignored because it’s not considered to be "load-carrying". In factuality, it is "load-carrying" an electrical load. It’s similar to the fact that they’ve seen fit to "life" pilots’ licences at age 60 but have no problem endorsing the wire’s licences to carry current (by comparison) to >600 years of age. Methuselah would approve – but Sampson doesn’t. "wire is wire" (Who said that?)

REPORTER: And even some commercial airlines are voting with their feet. As early as 1977, TWA, a commercial airline, not the military, told Boeing it didn’t want Kapton in its new passenger jets. As well, United Airlines recently admitted it too became so concerned about Kapton that it demanded Boeing install different wiring before buying new jets in 1989.

But Kapton’s manufacturer Du Pont says it knows of no aircraft accident which, on analysis, has been linked to Kapton. This is the root of all wire matters. But I think Du Pont doesn’t refer here to military a/c, but to commercial a/c exclusively. Sounds similar to: "I have no recollection of that Senator". It’s not been a good cover-up, it’s been one of the GREAT cover-ups. It’s probably being scripted on a day-to-day basis by Oliver North (aided and abetted by Lord Lucan).

In 1990, a Kapton-wired 737 caught fire on the ground in the Philippines. Eight people died and the plane was a wreck. America’s air accident investigators urged the FAA to order an immediate inspection of all 737s because they discovered cracked and damaged wires in the centre fuel tank. But, incredibly, the FAA failed to demand those inspections until last year — eight years later — and only because more problems were found in other 737s.

REPORTER: As you’ll see in part two of our story, this is not the last aircraft tragedy where wiring is now a suspect.

HOGAN: The FAA is still in a state of denial and it can’t adequately grapple with this issue until it says yes, there is a problem. These are easy words for somebody at the FAA to utter and in fact they are truthful words but they’ve not yet been able to do it.

REPORTER: Ten years ago Kevin Campbell had a passion. He and his son Lee would buy British sports cars from around the world, bringing them back to Wellington in New Zealand to be lovingly restored. The father and son loved and understood high-performance machinery.

KEVIN CAMPBELL: I have always restored cars. I have a pretty good idea of how things work.

REPORTER: But almost exactly 10 years ago today, on February 24, 1989, Kevin Campbell lost his passion. That was the day his son Lee died.

CAMPBELL: We’re always thinking of Lee. He’s never out of our thoughts. We really miss him. We wonder what might have been.

REPORTER: Fifteen minutes out of Honolulu, United Airlines Flight 811 was cruising at 23,000 feet over the Pacific. Without warning, the plane’s forward cargo door blew open, right under Lee’s business class seat. The pressurised cabin exploded — a tray hacking into a wall. The man who sat there was dragged out over the bending arm. And this was Lee’s seat — he and nine other passengers were sucked out to their deaths.

CAMPBELL: Lee was probably the last to leave the aircraft because he actually had floor underneath him and a bit of fuselage beside him but his seat failed and he went out.

REPORTER: Kevin and his wife Susan decided they had to find out for themselves just why their son had died. They went to America and they were the only next of kin to sit through the entire investigation hearing.

CAMPBELL: We knew that we couldn’t rely on the government agencies to investigate it. So it was just an immediate decision that we would do everything that we could to find out what happened ourselves.

REPORTER: Initially the National Transportation Safety Board — the NTSB — ruled the airline and the ground crew were at fault supposedly for failing to repair a door latch and for failing to lock it properly. But Kevin’s mechanical knowledge and the evidence he’d heard from the experts testifying in Seattle made him doubt what hundreds of experts had agreed on as the cause. He believed the cargo door had opened because of an electrical fault in the wiring inside the door.

CAMPBELL: It got a short. And it was told to open the door at 22,000 feet which it promptly did.

REPORTER: And why do you think it shorted?

CAMPBELL: Obviously the wiring. It got a short somewhere in the wiring and it just continued to open it.

REPORTER: To prove his argument Kevin even designed a replica of one of the eight locks that held the cargo door in place.

CAMPBELL: It’s supposed to hold them in that position, if by any chance there’s an electrical short and they try and turn. But on 811 they were actually made of aluminium and what happened when they got the short it simply got the electrical signal to start these locks opening. It just bent them around out of the way …

REPORTER: Because the aluminium was so flexible?

CAMPBELL: Yeah, there was just no strength.

REPORTER: Now you figured this out yourself?


REPORTER: And you made this to show the NTSB what you were talking about?

CAMPBELL: Yeah, it didn’t seem to do much good though I am afraid.

REPORTER: Because the cargo door was still at the bottom of the Pacific, Kevin Campbell couldn’t prove his theory. That was, until 1991, when another cargo door popped open on yet another United Airlines 747, at New York’s Kennedy Airport. This time investigators realised that chaffing in the wires had caused a stray electrical signal that opened the door. Investigators now knew Campbell just might be right. At huge cost a Navy unmanned submarine retrieved the door from five kilometres down. Within hours, the NTSB confirmed that Kevin Campbell had probably been right all along.

CAMPBELL: It was obvious as soon as it broke the surface that we were right. They rang us from Washington and said they had a contingency plan. That when they recovered the door, if their theory was correct they were releasing it to the media in Hawaii. And if the Campbells were correct the door was going to Boeing … He said the door was going to Boeing!

REPORTER: The NTSB’s revised report finally conceded the cargo door probably opened because of a fault in a switch or wiring. It found the insulation on the wiring in the door was cracked and those cracks ‘could have allowed short circuiting to power the latch actuator’. However it was impossible to be conclusive whether arcing had occurred because "all of the wires were not recovered and tests showed that arcing evidence may not be detectable".

So you’ll never be able to say for sure that it was that particular wiring chaffing and exploding causing the problem?

CAMPBELL: Not on 811. No. Because they didn’t recover it. But the other one that had problems at JFK the wiring was burned and blackened.

REPORTER: In May 1996 Valujet 592, a DC9 passenger jet, took off from Miami. Soon after takeoff one of the pilots sent a tense message to the Miami tower, requesting an emergency landing. The plane was on fire. Four minutes later he and 109 other passengers were dead. The American crash investigators found that what set the Valujet plane on fire was illegally stowed oxygen bottles that somehow leaked and ignited. But there’s growing concern that the NTSB got it wrong. That what brought 592 down into a Florida swamp was faulty wiring.

GROSE: I really think they made a bad error in that case.

REPORTER: Now why do you say that?

GROSE: Because they refused first of all to introduce into the record the electrical history of the aircraft that crashed and if they had done so they would have shown that on the very day of the crash in Atlanta, that aircraft was taxiing out from the air terminal and broke two circuit breakers.

REPORTER: The jet popped its circuit breakers three more times before it landed in Miami. But the NTSB’s official finding for the cause of the crash was that one of the oxygen bottles being illegally carried on the plane somehow pulled its pin and leaked into the cargo bay. This former NTSB board-member says such a finding begs a further explanation that the NTSB doesn’t want to contemplate.

GROSE: It needs an ignition source and I never have bought the fact that the ox bottles were an ignition source. I think there was wiring in that aircraft that was arcing somewhere and produced the fire that produced the smoke.

REPORTER: But how to prove it. The government regulators and the airlines maintain the only substantive evidence of arcing has come from military planes. As Qantas told us in a written statement "the naval military environment … is more corrosive and demanding than that experienced by commercial aircraft". But there have been Kapton arcing incidents on commercial planes. And when the FAA ordered last year’s inspection of Boeing 737s, of the 500 inspected in the US, half had chaffed wires in their fuel tanks, 10 had bare wires. Could it be that the FAA just hasn’t been looking hard enough for the evidence?

Armin Bruning is one of America’s most respected aviation wiring experts outside of the US military or the airline manufacturers. He has repeatedly offered to test commercial planes but he told Sunday how his offer was nobbled.

ARMIN BRUNING: I was offered about six months or a year ago an opportunity to make arrangements to take specimens from commercial aircraft. Several days before we were to depart to take those specimens, permission was withdrawn for that particular sample taking process. The same applies to EB’s committee work: if he can’t physically inspect, the story will have no end. Unless we get more crashes (higher frequency, smoke-in-the-cockpit, charred wires). Yes, it’s like Pandora’s box. If you were to let the Prices, Blocks and Brunings in for a look-see, there’d likely be hell to pay. It’s easier to deny access (claiming liability concerns etc). I have visions of Patrick bailed up in an airliner, armed to the teeth, refusing to come out until Al Gore himself fronts up for a look-see. (surrounded by SWAT Teams and FBI Snipers – but all done in tasteful Hollywood style). Maybe in the end that’s what it will take.

REPORTER: Do you know why?

BRUNING: I do not know for a fact what went on. But because there was an interaction between the government agencies and the commercial groups I suspect that the people involved would have been … one or the other party would have been in a compromising situation. The party who objected was in a position such that they felt it would have done grievous harm to the industry and perhaps to the safety of the travelling public.

REPORTER: The irony is that while commercial airline passengers have been denied the benefits of Mr Bruning’s independent expertise, he was involved in tests that recently helped Australia’s airforce plan the replacement of wiring in our P3 Orion reconnaissance aircraft.

BRUNING: Your people in fact stayed very close to the program. That work, which was funded by the US Navy, identified particular locations where the wire had degraded sufficiently so that the US Navy selectively replaced wiring in a combination of economy and increase of safety. And I believe the practices are being reflected in the use on your P3s.

REPORTER: Meanwhile, the death toll goes on. On September the 2nd last year, Swiss Air Flight 111 plunged into the Atlantic Ocean off Nova Scotia killing all 229 people aboard. The cause of this crash is still being determined. But in its wake, authorities ordered urgent inspections of the overhead cockpit wiring in all MD-11 aircraft because they’d found damaged wires entering overhead circuit breakers in wreckage hauled up from the crash scene. Investigators admit they’ve found evidence of electrical arcing on the Kapton wire that’s loomed extensively through this type of jet. In a tragedy uncannily similar to so many before, the crew of the stricken Swiss Air jet reported smoke in the cockpit 16 minutes before the crash. One possible explanation being investigated is whether damaged wires caused a short circuit, popping the jet’s circuit breakers. As Ed Block explains, pushing those circuit breakers back in might have had catastrophic results.

BLOCK: Sadly the normal procedure for finding smoke in the cockpit is to get down to a level that you can open the side window and evacuate the smoke. It’s kind of like a cave man rudimentary type of procedure where there’s no sophisticated way of doing it. That’s the process. Once you get down and supposedly clear the smoke you then want to try to identify where the smoke’s coming from. You have a three way switch that you go through each circuit and isolate it and hopefully find where it’s coming from. By re-igniting that circuit, he’s now putting energy back into that prepared Kapton wire bundle, which once it becomes charred is then conductive. It can actually act as a dynamite in a sense in that it becomes like fuel for the fire. Smoke elec/air: off/on. No possibility to switch all energy off and to step up to Virgin Bus instead. And without EVAS burning Tefzel will cause blinded pilots in the first emergency stage already. Hardly any survival chances. Unfortunately the Virgin Bus proposition is indigestible on a number of counts. For there to be any acknowledgement of it as a solution they’d have to admit that there is a problem – and you just know that they cannot afford to do that. In my mischievous way I readily admit that I invented the concept just to aggravate the "powers that be". They can see the sense of it but also identify readily with the impossibility of implementing it. What you will see in the future is a reasonable facsimile of it coming out in new-builds under a very non-descript name – but essentially achieving the same objective ( a compromise electrical redundancy that can ensure survivability). If that is a result of my initiatives I will be more than happy. If they "can" the foolish checklists as a result of the sr111 investigation I shall be deliriously happy. Unfortunately though, without a virgin bus, land immediately is the only option. Try not to do any long over-water hops (even if you are a good swimmer).

REPORTER: The makers of Kapton, Du Pont, say on their website that they "know of no aircraft accident, which, upon analysis, has been linked to Kapton". Only remedy: to prove the opposite. Hopefully, post sr111 they’ll have to remove that silly boast. If not, I’ll simply hack their site to read:

they "know of no aircraft accident, which, upon analysis, has not been linked to Kapton"

They’ll never notice.

As recently as January 9 this year, a United Airlines 767 flying from Zurich to Washington was forced to make an emergency landing at Heathrow because of a fire in wiring, including Kapton wiring. British investigators are still assessing whether it was an arc in chaffed or damaged wiring that caused the fire. Both Qantas and Ansett have assured Sunday they’re monitoring these overseas studies closely and they’ll follow any Airworthiness Directives issued by the American FAA. But is that enough?

What would you say to the people responsible for air safety in Australia who are following the lead of the FAA?

HOGAN: Certainly, they should do that, but surely they should realise that the FAA on many critical safety issues is way, way, way behind. That simple. The FAA does not want to, has not been interested in, getting to the bottom of this.

REPORTER: If the expert critics are right. If the wiring on commercial planes is potentially as much of a problem as it is on military planes then it’s a catastrophe for the airline business because replacing that wiring is just too expensive an option. It’s probably cheaper to buy a completely new jet than to attempt to re-wire an old one. And even if it is proven to the satisfaction of the FAA that wiring is a safety problem then it has to decide if the billions of dollars that would have to be spent on new aircraft is an affordable safety expense that the travelling public and the industry should have to bare.

The commercial aviation industry is a formidable lobby. Bill Hogan’s research revealed that in the 10 years to 1997 that lobby donated 44 million US dollars to congressional campaigns. Eleven of the top 25 recipients in the House of Representatives are on committees that directly oversee the industry. This US Defence Department email details how Du Pont was lobbying in Congress to stop the Navy from banning Kapton on its planes. There is a public report with evidence of party and private donations. In this country (the Netherlands) this is punishable by law. Politicians behind bars so to speak. What happens in the US is too crazy for words. That’s democracy in a free market for you. The problem is that no-one bothered to define de-regulation, they just introduced it as a synonym for "free-for-all" (including vested interests). If it was stock-market related, it would be reprehensibly "insider-trading".

"There is a lot of politics surrounding this issue with heavy hitters from Du Pont weighing in in Washington."

REPORTER: If you were an Australian safety regulator what would you be doing — or if you were hired by the Australian government — what would you be advising them?

GROSS: Well, I would be advising first of all, do some tests that hadn’t been done by the FAA. Which tests? Again Cahill and Blake tested. I could only say: they could have been done more extensively. Look at the 60 degrees test, the chosen circuit-breaker amp. Proper testing would simulate in-service conditions and back up their contentions that civil/military environments differ by demonstrable proof. Armin Bruning, Patrick, Ed Block and Bob Dunham could formulate a realistic test that would/could be agreed (and endorsed) by the NTSB/Dupont/Raytheon/the FAA’s International Aircraft Materials Fire Test Working Group / NASA Lewis Research Centre/JAA/IATA and UKAAIB. They seem to resist, the idea of testing under realistic conditions what wiring will do. They just recently, within the last month or two, had looked at five old aircraft, one of them was an air freighter for goodness sake and they found all kinds of anomalies in that aircraft and that alerted them that they’d better start looking at the aging effects of wiring.

REPORTER: Australia’s air safety investigation body, BASI, does have an excellent reputation and so do our domestic airlines. But the Civil Aviation Safety Authority’s Mick Toller admits Australia just doesn’t have the resources to do its own investigations into wiring. We’ll have to wait and see what the overseas investigations determine. Reputations only prove themselves after a severe disaster. I have no doubt that it would be Boeing and/or Airbus "GO" Teams that would be conducting the technical reviews after a major Australian airline accident.

TOLLER: We’re very much aware of the fact that, as a result of certain accidents, people have made suggestions that wiring may be one of the elements. What we’ve got at the moment though as far as I can see is nothing that points an absolute definite finger in any direction but there are just concerns being raised which means people will continue to look and continue to take it seriously. This important, but hopeless statement doesn’t get any response from the reporter. Sometimes a pregnantly querulous look is sufficient response to an inanity.

REPORTER: Ten years from the day that his son Lee died on United Flight 811, Kevin Campbell is preparing to sell the last of the sports cars he and his son used to enjoy restoring. It’s time to move on. For Kevin, proving to the experts what really killed his son was one way of coming to terms with the pain of his loss. His mechanical aptitude helped him see what a legion of investigators had missed. With mounting evidence suggesting that wiring might be the smoking gun in many recent tragedies, all the loved ones of those who were lost demand is that it never be allowed to happen again.

CAMPBELL: It’s something you don’t want to think about isn’t it. United carried 568 million people safely and Lee got on the plane and was killed. The odds are tremendous against anything happening but anything that can be done to make it safer, I feel, has got to be done.


It may even take a book like Ralph Nader’s "Unsafe at any Speed" to bring the "aircraft wiring" matter to the public’s attention. We could call it "Wired to Ground".

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