NTSB: Fuel Tank Explosion Prevention Still Lagging

More than 1o years after the TWA Flight 800 crash, the NTSB says that fuel tanks are just as flammable.

The FAA said Thursday that the board's suggestion will be considered, but it noted there is far less chance of fuel in the wing ever exploding than fuel in the center tank, which is only flammable during 12 percent to 26 percent of a flight.

The FAA issued a proposed rule last year that would require operators and manufacturers of transport-category aircraft to take steps to reduce the likelihood of fuel tank vapors exploding by requiring a fuel-inerting system. But the industry has resisted this move because of the cost.

The FAA has said it is moving forward with the proposed rule, but has not said when it might be made final.

The Air Transport Association, which represents U.S. airlines, is strongly opposed to the rule. Airbus has also come out against it.

In a news release Thursday, the FAA said flying is "far safer" today than it was 10 years ago.

Since 1996, the FAA said, it has issued more than 100 directives that have addressed various fuel tank safety issues.

But the NTSB noted in its release that since the TWA accident, there have been two fuel tank explosions on jetliners. One occurred in 2001, in the center wing tank of a Boeing 737 parked at the terminal in Bangkok, Thailand.

The board is currently investigating the explosion last month in the left wing fuel tank on a Transmile Airlines 727 cargo plane in Bangalore, India.

The plane was waiting to be towed and only the auxiliary power unit was running. Although the source of the explosion has not yet been determined, the board said Thursday that had the plane been flying, the explosion would have torn off the wing and the crash would not have been survivable.

P-I aerospace reporter James Wallace can be reached at 206-448-8040 or jameswallace@seattlepi.com.

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