|09/11/1999 03:16 pm EDT
The following information comes from AIR SAFETY WEEK
Special Review Finds Oversight Lacking
in Supplemental Type Certificate Process
Satisfying the regulations and meeting the minimum standards did not
prevent the installation of a system that was incompatible with an
airplane's design philosophy. This is one of the central lessons emerging
from the Swissair Flight 111 tragedy, and one that has put the Federal
Aviation Administration (FAA) on the spot -- reacting to rather than
having prevented what appears to be an embarrassing lack of rigorous
It was the FAA's imprimatur on the Supplemental Type Certificate (STC)
that authorized the installation of a high-powered interactive in-flight
entertainment network (IFEN) in Swissair's 16-plane fleet of MD-11
jets. After the Sept. 1998 crash of one of those airplanes, burned
wires associated with the IFEN were pulled from the wreckage and the
company immediately disconnected the power from the IFEN systems on
its remaining aircraft.
Last week, Swissair filed a lawsuit against the three companies involved
in the IFEN fiasco: Interactive Flight Technologies Inc. (IFT), which
supplied the system, Santa Barbara Aerospace, which certified it,
and Hollingshead International, whose technicians installed it. Earlier,
IFT issued a lawsuit against Swissair, claiming it had relied on SR
Technics, the carrier's maintenance arm, to ensure proper integration
of the IFEN in Swissair's MD-11's (see ASW, May 24).
The dueling lawsuits are part of the larger picture that begs the
question: should the system have been installed the way it was in
the first place? Further, was regulatory oversight sufficiently rigorous?
The answers, at this point, seem to be "no" and "no."
The FAA plans to issue an airworthiness directive (AD) to prevent
further use of an IFEN the Swiss authorities have already banned.
The forthcoming action is based on a special certification review
the FAA conducted after the Swissair MD-11 crashed.
Indeed, according to Ronald Wojnar, deputy director of the FAA's aircraft
certification service, that fleetwide review of MD-11's was launched
within hours of the Swissair accident. "We started, actually, at (Boeing's)
Douglas Products Division, by looking at the systems in that cabin
area so see what was up there (in the burned area). We looked at airplanes
in production. We looked at airplanes undergoing heavy maintenance,
and we also found that this particular airplane (the accident airplane)
had this supplemental type certificate (system) installed." The STC
was issued November 19, 1996 by Santa Barbara Aerospace in its capacity
as an FAA-approved Designated Alteration Station (DAS).
The report of the FAA's self-initiated review of this particular STC
process represents a mixture of candor offset by hedging rhetoric.
Yes, there were deficiencies, but never at risk of compromising safety.
Among the June 14, 1999 report's principal findings:
The IFEN's electrical power switching was not compatible with the
MD-11's design concept. Instead of connecting the system to the cabin
bus, it was hooked to an essential bus. As a result, the installation
did not "provide the flightcrew and/or cabin crew with the ability
to remove electrical power" by any means other than pulling the system's
circuit breakers. The installation "circumvented flight-crew procedures
for responding to a smoke/fumes emergency by connecting the IFEN system
to an electrical bus that is not de-energized when the CAB BUS switch
is activated," according to the certification review team's report.
Certification procedures were sloppy. The bill of particulars includes
a failure to adequately inspect the installed IFEN systems. "The DAS
inspector found non-conformities after the applicant (Santa Barbara
Aerospace) stated that inspections had been performed and the installation
was in conformance to design data." There were failures in FAA
oversight. The special review team found gaps in FAA documentation
requirements and procedures to ensure that the IFEN was properly installed.
Training standards were inadequate. If Designated Alteration Station
(DAS) staff are going to be approving/certifying installation of systems
like this IFEN, they need better training in the design philosophy
of the airplane and the carrier's operational procedures, the certification
Even though deficiencies in design and installation were found, the
report insisted that the discrepancies did not "adversely impact safety."
The testing included an AC to DC short circuit test, in which a single-phase
115-volt ac power supply input wire was shorted directly to the 48-volt
dc output of the power supply. The circuit breakers tripped, the fault
was removed, IFEN power was restored, and the system booted up and
operated normally. Nevertheless, Wojnar conceded, "We've seen instances
in those airplanes where they didn't use good industry practices for
the installation of the wiring."
Regarding system de-activation, Wojnar said, "We don't know exactly
what the crew knew regarding the function of the cabin bus switch.
Since Swissair had inserted an item in their 'parking' checklist to
pull the circuit breakers to shut down the IFEN system, the crew would
have known that this was the only way to shut down the system in a
The review team said flatly the IFEN needs to be connected to, or
controlled by, the cabin bus switch. That recommendation seems to
have been overtaken by events. Wojnar said an AD will be issued to
prevent the reactivation of these IFEN systems. "The STC is no longer
valid, and we'll issue at least an AD which of course will go out
to the world....It will cover our airworthiness concerns," even though,
he added, "we don't have proof that (the IFEN) caused the accident."
In addition, steps will be taken to better educate DAS and FAA officials.
"This wasn't the best understanding of the original manufacturer's
system design philosophy, and we're going to come up with new policies
on what was needed in those areas," Wojnar asserted. (Note: the full
text of the interview with Mr. Wojnar is on our website:
www.aviationtoday.com >> FAA, tel. 202/267-3461 <<
Gaps in the Process
Special Certification Review Team Report of Swissair MD-11 In-flight
Electrical power switching is not compatible with the design concept
of the MD-11 airplane...In addition, (it) does not provide the flight-crew...with
the ability to remove electrical power by a means other than pulling
the system's circuit breakers. The STC (supplemental type certificate)
applicant and DAS (Designated Alteration Station) holder did not follow
proper certification procedures. The FAA failed to ensure that problems
identified...were corrected. Non-conformities between installation
drawings and the actual installation were identified, and a number
of installation drawings were found inadequate. However, these discrepancies
were minor and do not adversely impact safety.
FAA should require that any organization having DAS authority provide
formal training (including): the airplane manufacturer's type design,
design practices, operational assumptions and operator procedures.
Initiate an effort to determine if the findings of this special certification
review are representative of the DAS industry as a whole.
**********Here is an example of just how serious these wire concerns
Wires and Fires (From AIR SAFETY WEEK)
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Oversight
has scheduled a hearing on aircraft electrical system safety for Sept.
15, 2:00 p.m., in Room 2167 of the Rayburn House Office Building.
Issues may include wire types, their characteristics, arcing, inspection
techniques and possible solutions to ameliorate the hazard posed by
aging wire, connections and electrical systems in geriatric jets.
Witnesses will represent the NTSB, FAA, ALPA, the U.S. Navy and other
top experts. The 6 witnesses now slated each will give a 5 min. presentation,
followed by questions from subcommittee members. This hearing has
been cancelled before (more than 4 times already); this announcement
is contingent upon the potential for yet another delay in this long-expected
It is utterly amazing that the bozo bureaucrats at the FAA would name
deficiencies such as, "Electrical power switching is not compatible
with the design concept of the MD-11 airplane...In addition, (it)
does not provide the flightcrew...with the ability to remove electrical
power by a means other than pulling the system's circuit breakers.
The STC applicant and DAS holder did not follow proper certification
The FAA failed to ensure that problems identified...were corrected,"
... and then have the unmitigated gall to say that these deficiencies
did not compromise safety. It is also unbelievable that top FAA officials
failed to mention this review in their meeting with IASA just last
Clearly we in the United States can NOT trust our federal agencies.