By Gary Stoller, USA TODAY
A company that supplied entertainment systems
for Swissair jets brushed off employees' concerns about the systems'
safety, well before the product drew investigators' attention as a
possible cause of a 1998 Swissair crash, two former employees say.
lost 16yo daughter Tara
The employees say Interactive Flight
Technologies' entertainment system produced excessive heat, which
worried them. They contacted USA TODAY after it published an
investigative report on the system on Feb. 17.
The Canadian Transportation Safety Board is scheduled to release its
report of the Swissair accident today, 41/2 years after the crash.
Swissair Flight 111, a McDonnell Douglas MD-11 flying from New York,
crashed near Nova Scotia, killing 229 people.
Delta was a
Swissair Code-Sharing Partner on the route-but didn't have the
Canadian investigators found that
entertainment system wires and other wires had short-circuited, and
an onboard fire had occurred. The Federal Aviation Administration
subsequently banned the system from airliners.
It's not clear whether the system's heat problem had any bearing on
the accident. But what the employees say may support the FAA's
internal post-crash review that found flaws in the system's design
and installation, as well as its certification by an FAA-approved
Dean Lilja, a former IFT mechanical engineer, says that he and other
engineers repeatedly expressed their concern that the system
generated too much heat.
"It was always an issue, and it was never dealt with," he says.
aircon duct - aircon circulation would have helped spread the
fire in the flammable (now banned) mylar thermal-acoustic
Lilja, who worked for IFT from December 1994
to August 1996, says he raised the issue with IFT's then-chief
executive officer Michail Itkis. "Michail would say, 'It's not a big
deal,' " Lilja says.
When one of the system's components caught fire during a test
flight, Lilja says, a manager told him not to say anything.
Neither Itkis nor his father, IFT founder Yuri Itkis, returned phone
calls seeking comment. IFT is no longer operating.
Fred Barber, who began working as IFT's quality assurance manager in
fall 1995, says that each entertainment system box located under a
passenger seat was excessively hot. He feared passengers would burn
The boxes "got so hot, you could fry an egg on them," he says. "I
complained about the heat problem in several meetings but was told
not to worry."
After the Swissair crash, Lilja says that some
IFT employees were concerned that the entertainment system was
responsible. One former IFT official, he says, told them to keep
Barber says he doesn't believe the IFT system was the cause of the
accident, because its electrical components were protected by
Since USA TODAY's story, the General Accounting Office, the
investigative arm of Congress, has begun examining the FAA's use of
thousands of private companies to inspect and certify airlines'
planes and alterations to them.
The Department of Transportation's Inspector General is considering