FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
14-05 April 1, 2005
Contact: Les Dorr, Jr.
FAA Proposes Removal or Modification of Aircraft Insulation Blankets
WASHINGTON, DC – To reduce the risk of fire spreading aboard aircraft, the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) today proposed requiring operators of more than 800 U.S.-registered Boeing aircraft to replace or modify certain insulation blankets over the next six years.
The primary purpose of aircraft insulation blankets is to protect the passengers and crew from engine noise and frigid temperatures at high altitudes. Like silver-lined household insulation, they often are backed with a transparent film that helps hold them together. The proposed airworthiness directive (AD) was prompted by the discovery that some insulation blankets, which are coated with a film called AN-26, no longer meet the standards for preventing the spread of fire.
There are about 1,600 Boeing 727, 737, 747, 757 and 767 aircraft worldwide with this insulation, of which 831 are U.S.-registered.
As an alternative to replacing the insulation, Boeing is developing a spray-on barrier that, if successful, would correct the problem and meet the requirements of the proposed directive. Boeing expects to have the product ready by April 2006.
In June 2000, the FAA ordered insulation covered with metalized Mylar removed from more than 700 McDonnell Douglas models by June 30, 2005. This followed the 1998 in-flight fire and crash off Nova Scotia of an MD-11 operating as Swissair flight 111. AN-26, manufactured by Orcon Corporation of Union City, CA, between 1981 and 1988, is different from the metalized Mylar used on insulation blankets installed previously on the McDonnell Douglas aircraft.
Although AN-26 appears to impede the spread of flames better than metalized Mylar, tests conducted by the FAA's William J. Hughes Technical Center on 1980s-vintage AN-26 blankets indicated they no longer meet safety standards in a consistent manner.
The estimated cost of replacing the blankets on the U.S. fleet is approximately $330 million. If Boeing's alternate spray-on method is used, the cost may be less than $200 million. Replacing the blankets on a Boeing 737 requires about 4,200 labor hours, and 16,000 labor hours on a Boeing 747.
The proposed directive will appear in the Federal Register on Monday, April 4. A copy of will be available at: http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs/aces/fr-cont.html
NOTE TO MEDIA: A high-resolution photo of AN-26 insulation can be downloaded at: www.faa.gov/news/insulation/
CD, Thanks for posting that. I'm glad that
the FAA is proposing this change but wish they would have done this sooner and that they would reduce the time period allowed for the transition to safer materials.
FAA Tells Boeing to Fix Fire Hazard
By Sara Kehaulani Goo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 2, 2005; Page E02
Air carriers will be required to replace or find a new way to cover insulation used in 831 Boeing Co. airplanes in the United States because it fails to prevent fire from spreading, the Federal Aviation Administration said yesterday.
The requirement, which is expected to be in effect by year-end, could result in the removal of the material from 1,600 Boeing 727, 737, 747, 757 and 767 planes worldwide, as regulators in other nations follow suit. Airbus SAS aircraft do not have the same insulation problems, the FAA said.
The problem was discovered in 2002 by a Canadian airline during maintenance of a 767 aircraft. When the cabin walls were stripped down on the plane, it appeared that a small fire caused by wires had occurred and extinguished without the flight crew knowing about it. Commercial airplanes have insulation between the metal of the plane's skin and the cabin, much like the insulation in a home, to keep the cabin warm when flying at high altitudes and to reduce noise. The insulation is often intertwined with wires, pipes and ducts.
FAA officials tested the thin layers of Mylar materials that cover the thick insulation in Boeing planes to see if it met the agency's standards, and they failed, said John Hickey, director of FAA's aircraft certification service. "If exposed to a spark, it should not light on fire and allow [the fire] to spread," Hickey said. "It failed a sufficient amount of times."
Orcon Industries Corp. of Union City, Calif., manufactured the Mylar material between 1981 and 1988.
Boeing said it supported the FAA's move, and that it is developing a spray-on flame-retardant material that it hopes can be used on the insulation to meet the FAA's concerns. If approved, the spray could eliminate the 16,000 estimated hours of labor it would require to replace insulation on the 747s, said Liz Verdier, a Boeing spokeswoman.
The FAA has already banned some other insulation covers on 700 McDonnell Douglas planes after the crash of Swissair Flight 111, an MD-11 that crashed off the coast of Nova Scotia after an in-flight fire believed to have been caused by a wire.
Air carriers will have six years to comply with the requirement, which is expected to cost $330 million and be completed at the time of the aircraft's scheduled major maintenance overhaul.
Posted 4/3/2005 10:13 PM
FAA: Replace jet insulation to cut fire risk
By Alan Levin, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON "” Hundreds of U.S. airline jets contain flammable insulation that poses a safety risk and must be removed, according to federal aviation regulators.
The insulation, which lines the outer walls of jets, can burn if it touches sparks or flame, the Federal Aviation Administration said Friday. The insulation was installed in Boeing jets built in the 1980s when fire-resistance standards were less stringent than they are now.
"Fire and airplanes are a bad mix, so when you have the opportunity to reduce the risk, you take it," said John Hickey, who heads the FAA's aircraft certification division.
The recommendation is the latest step to improve fire safety after flames erupted on Swissair Flight 111 and it plunged into the Atlantic Ocean off Nova Scotia in 1998. The crash killed all 229 people aboard.
One conclusion from the investigation of the crash was that the plastic covers of insulation blankets on the McDonnell Douglas MD-11 had ignited. The material was supposed to snuff out fires. That prompted regulators to order the material removed from about 700 McDonnell Douglas jets. Boeing bought McDonnell Douglas in 1997.
A series of more recent fires aboard Boeing models convinced regulators that another material also posed a risk. In one case, insulation aboard an Air Canada 767 caught fire during a flight on May 13, 2002, according to the Canadian Transportation Safety Board.
Hickey said that most of the fires were minor and that the risks of a fire causing a fatal crash are very small. But the FAA decided to act because material covering the Boeing insulation does not meet more rigorous fire-prevention standards imposed in 2000, he said.
A total of 831 jets flown by U.S. airlines will have to have flammable insulation replaced by 2011, according to a proposed FAA action. It will become final after the public has a chance to comment for 60 days.
The six-year deadline allows airlines to perform the complex replacement during previously scheduled maintenance. The work will cost an estimated $330 million. An additional 800 jets around the world also will be affected. The insulation was installed on Boeing 727, 737, 747, 757 and 767 models.
Boeing spokeswoman Liz Verdier said the company agrees that the insulation burns too easily and has been working with the FAA. Boeing is developing a fire retardant that can be sprayed on the insulation. Boeing hopes airlines will not have to replace insulation if they use the spray. Using the spray could cut the cost by more than one-third.
The discovery of the flammable insulation highlights how little regulators know about the properties of dozens of materials used in insulation, Verdier said.
Hickey said the FAA is not aware of any other material that poses a risk but will continue to investigate.
A well written piece on the mylar problem:
FAA Narrows Scope Of Insulation Replacement Rules
By Kerry Lynch
01/09/2006 09:41:01 AM
The Federal Aviation Administration scaled back the scope of new insulation requirements after industry groups warned that the new rules were so expansive that they would apply to thousands of parts that are no longer available, a situation that could ground some aircraft unless the rules were changed (BA, Aug. 22/78). FAA released the amendment to its thermal/acoustic insulation rule in the Dec. 30 Federal Register, saying the agency "has recently been provided information that the rule will apply to a much broader range of components in currently operating airplanes than was originally intended."
FAA also said that since releasing the final insulation rule in July 2003, it realized that some requirements mandating upgraded material on replacement parts do not significantly improve airplane fire safety and that in many cases compliant replacements are not readily available. The Dec. 30 amendment, FAA said, "focuses on replacement materials that have a greater effect on safety and are readily available, and is necessary to avoid grounding of airplanes."
The new thermal requirements were proposed in 2000, following the 1998 crash of Swissair Flight 111. The Transportation Safety Board of Canada concluded that an electrical fire spread through flammable material aboard the McDonnell Douglas MD-11 and recommended more stringent flammability standards.
FAA's new flammability standards originally were believed to cover only thermal and acoustic blankets installed in aircraft operated under Part 121. But the agency in June released guidance that made it clear "that the rule was being applied to every insulating material in the fuselage of every Part 25 aircraft (both old and new) to include hard components, wiring bundles, tape, hook and loop fasteners (Velcro) and every piece of installed equipment with insulation," according to seven industry groups who co-signed a letter to FAA Administrator Marion Blakey last summer urging a delay in the rules. The groups said the rules would cover items such as microwave ovens, coffee makers, air ducting, avionics components and other commercial-off-the-shelf pieces that contain insulation.
The requirements, the groups told the administrator, "clearly exceed the scope of the [proposal] and what we believe was originally intended." This is problematic since compliance replacement parts are not available for many out-of-production airplanes, the groups said, adding that the rules should be limited to thermal and acoustic blankets used in Part 121 operations.
FAA agreed, that in light of some of the concerns raised, changes are necessary for a number of reasons. "Thermal/acoustic insulation is used much more extensively in the fuselage than we originally understood," the agency said, adding, "We did not consider whether compliance replacement parts could be efficiently produced for a significant number of parts installed on airplane models that are no longer in production." FAA also agreed that some materials required for compliance cost or weigh more than materials they replace. "This is particularly true for materials that are used to insulate certain equipment or provide acoustic attenuation in specialized application," the agency said, adding that a significant redesign would have been required to install the new materials.
FAA agreed to narrow the scope of the rule to cover primarily replacement of blankets and certain duct insulation on aircraft produced before Sept. 2, 2005. The agency, however, maintained the applicability to transport category aircraft operated under Parts 91, 135 and 121 - rather than limiting the requirements only to Part 121-operated aircraft. Insulation blankets, typically installed directly on the interior of the airplane fuselage, around ducts and under floor panels, "represent the largest usage of thermal/acoustic insulation in the airplane and are, therefore, the most significant from a fire safety standpoint," the agency said. Materials for insulation blankets are widely available "and can be readily adapted to different applications, even for airplane models no longer in production." FAA added that the insulation blanket standards were the primary driver for the rules in the first place.
FAA also maintained that the new standards for insulation around ducts are necessary. "Ducts are intended to convey a fluid medium from one point to others and, therefore, provide a potential fire propagation path by their nature." But FAA added that it was limiting replacement requirements to air ducts only. "Other types of piping, or fluid lines are no longer covered by the replacement provision." The agency also said that insulation that is integral to the duct and cannot be replaced without replacing the duct is no longer covered. "This includes insulation that is bonded or laminated to the surface of the duct."
The rules do not cover new aircraft, the agency said, since "airframe manufacturers have worked diligently to achieve compliance for newly manufactured airplanes and all the affected parts have been addressed."
Industry groups were generally pleased with the FAA's amendment to the insulation rule. "It's now a much better rule than was written before," said Gregory Bowles, manager of engineering and maintenance for the General Aviation Manufacturers Association. "I think the FAA has done very well to balance safety" with the ability of the industry to meet the requirements, he said. The rule, however, serves as a reminder to industry to carefully examine FAA rulemaking. FAA stated that during the notice and comment period for the rules, it received little guidance about some of the problems that industry brought to light last summer.
The Aircraft Electronics Association also said it was pleased with the changes. "The amendment is very appropriate and reasonable," AEA said. AEA added, however, that is was disappointed that FAA did not address problems with parts catalogs that contain parts that the rule rendered unacceptable for use on U.S.-registered aircraft.
National Air Transportation Association echoed those comments, saying several of its concerns had been addressed. "However, the final rule does not address a significant compliance concern," the association said. "Hundreds of parts catalogs now contain part numbers that are no longer compliant with this rule."
The amendment takes effect Jan. 30, but FAA will accept comments on the changes through Feb. 28. Comments can be e-mailed to http://dms.dot.gov and should identify the docket number FAA-2005-23462.
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