NTSB Concerned Rules Don't Apply to Aging Planes

Planes like the aging seaplane that lost a wing and crashed in Miami in December, killing all 20 people aboard, won't be subject to new federal rules designed to protect the safety of older aircraft.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) accused federal aviation regulators Tuesday of ignoring a mandate from Congress by exempting all airline planes with fewer than 30 seats from regulations that will require additional inspections of aging planes.

The NTSB has not determined what caused the crash of a Chalk's Ocean Airways seaplane that plummeted into a shipping channel Dec. 19 after its wing snapped off and it was engulfed in flames. The agency, which investigates accidents and makes recommendations for safety improvements, has found evidence that the wing was weakened by corrosion and stress. The Grumman G-73T Mallard was built in 1947.

As planes age, metal weakens, and wiring becomes more susceptible to short-circuiting. Congress passed the Aging Airplane Safety Act in 1991, which required the Federal Aviation Administration to mandate improved inspections and maintenance. Last year, when the FAA issued regulations ordered by the law, it exempted planes with fewer than 30 passenger seats. It also exempted planes designed before 1958.

"The safety board is concerned that the exemptions ... exclude airplanes such as the accident airplane," the NTSB said in a letter sent to the FAA. The letter said the NTSB also is concerned that the rules will not take effect until 2010.

"The FAA will certainly take a hard look at the NTSB's recommendations and respond to the board as quickly as possible," said Alison Duquette, an FAA spokeswoman.

The FAA has issued more than 700 directives designed to improve safety on older planes, she said.

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