watchdog critical of wiring
By Alison Auld / The Canadian Press
Experts investigating three decades of international aviation
incidents have found more than 400 cases of wire-related
problems, many of them involving the insulation material
suspected in the crash of Swissair Flight 111.
The private watchdog group, which examined air incidents
from 1972 to 2000, compiled a list this month that includes
everything from fatal crashes to reports of smoke spewing
out of aircraft cockpits because of wiring and electrical
"I was shocked at the numbers," said report co-author
Ed Block, a wiring expert with the International Aviation
"Seeing them compiled into one report really raised
the red flag to me to say, 'This is the proof we need to
show that wiring has been a concern and will be a concern',"
he said from Philadelphia.
"This nails the history of wiring."
Block sifted through hundreds of incidents recorded by
the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. National
Transportation Safety Board to produce a list he says further
supports claims that aircraft wiring is a systemic but overlooked
The findings, which Block said have been passed on to the
Transportation Safety Board of Canada, cite dozens of incidents
involving Kapton wiring insulation.
The controversial material has been implicated in several
accidents, including the crash of Swissair Flight 111, an
MD-11 that plunged into the ocean off Nova Scotia in 1998
killing all 229 people on board.
Canada's safety board, which is testing 20 burnt wires
it believes were damaged by sparks between wires, has found
evidence fire developed in the ceiling near Flight 111's
cockpit but haven't discovered the cause.
The aircraft's in-flight entertainment system shows damage
to its power-supply wires, raising questions about whether
it was the source of fire.
The agency has also determined that wire covered in Kapton
was charred and that there were signs of arcing, a phenomenon
similar to a short circuit.
The problem can ultimately lead to an explosive fire that
burns at 5,000 C, incinerating everything in its path. Block
is convinced such a fire caused the Swissair crash.
Pilots aboard Flight 111 reported smoke in the cockpit
about 53 minutes after leaving New York. The plane's electrical
systems began failing about 15 minutes later.
Six minutes after that, the jet plummeted into the Atlantic
Block, who also sits on an FAA committee, said aviation
officials have known since the early 1970s, when the first
incident of arc-tracking was reported, that Kapton is potentially
flammable, but have done little about it.
"This is kind of like the ... smoking gun that's been
there all along," said Block, who last year inspected
four of Swissair's MD-11s.