Jetliner Safety Bill Fueled by Flight 800

June 29, 2007
If passed, FAA would require safety equipment installation on nation's commercial fleet by end of 2007

Nearly 11 years after a fuel tank exploded on TWA Flight 800, killing 230 people off the South Shore of Long Island, a congressional committee voted yesterday to force the Federal Aviation Administration to act to prevent similar explosions.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee added language to the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act that would require the federal government to make so-called inerting systems standard equipment on commercial airlines.

If passed by the full Congress, the FAA would have to require the installation of the safety equipment on the nation's commercial fleet to begin by the end of the year.

"Flight 800 was a tragedy, but to knowingly let it happen again would be an even greater tragedy," said Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton), a key supporter of the legislation. "There have been two other accidents involving fuel tank explosions, and while there is no predicting whether it will happen again, prudence would demand that we impose a solution."

A vote on the House bill is expected later this summer. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has introduced similar legislation in the Senate.

In August 2000 the National Transportation Safety Board found that an explosion in Flight 800's emptying the center fuel tank led to the jumbo jet's disintegration.

The board recommended that commercial jets be fitted with a system that replaces explosive air in partially empty fuel tanks with an inert gas.

But although U.S. military planes - including Air Force One - are required to have these systems on board, the FAA so far has not required them of commercial jetliners.

At a hearing last September, FAA associate administrator Nick Sabatini said the safety measure would become a requirement by this September.

But Bishop said the FAA had promised action before, and he wanted language that would hold the FAA to a schedule.

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