New steps ordered for airline wiring
FAA rule requires changes in maintenance to prevent fires
By JOHN HUGHES
U.S. airlines must take new steps in protecting aircraft wiring to prevent fires and accidents such as those that downed Trans World Airlines and Swissair jets.
The Federal Aviation Administration rule, made final Wednesday, gives Airbus, The Boeing Co. and other plane manufacturers two years to develop maintenance and inspection procedures for airlines.
Airlines have three years to begin carrying out the new requirements.
The action caps a decadelong effort by regulators and the industry to boost safety after 1990s accidents uncovered wiring as a potential vulnerability. The FAA estimated that the regulation will cost $416 million over 25 years.
"This is a big safety step," said Les Dorr, a spokesman for the Washington-based agency. "The surprise issue is that maintenance was causing damage to the wiring bundles," so airlines will need to take special precautions while performing such tasks.
U.S. airlines support the rule, which requires greater coordination between manufacturers and carriers in developing maintenance procedures, said Victoria Day, a spokeswoman for the Air Transport Association trade group in Washington.
"We encourage the FAA to adopt this collaborative approach in upcoming rules," Day said. Group members include American Airlines, United Airlines and Delta Air Lines Inc.
Many modern aircraft with computerized cockpits contain more than 100 miles of wire routed in bundles. When wiring insulation wears, system failures or fires can occur, and the problem becomes a particular concern as aircraft age.
Swissair Flight 111, a Boeing MD-11, crashed into the Atlantic Ocean near Nova Scotia, Canada, in 1998, killing all 229 people on board, after a fire on the aircraft.
Faulty wiring in a video-entertainment system probably was the cause, Canadian investigators concluded.
TWA Flight 800, a Boeing 747, exploded over the Atlantic near New York in 1996, killing all 230 people on board. The explosion in the center fuel tank was caused by a flammable fuel-air mixture, and the ignition source was probably an electrical short circuit, U.S. investigators concluded.
The National Transportation Safety Board issued 34 safety recommendations after investigating 15 accidents or incidents that involved electrical wiring malfunctions between 1983 and 1999.
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