FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 16, 2006
On Eve Of 10 Year Anniversary Of Flt 800 Crash, FAA Still Hasn’t Corrected Flaw That Took Down Plane, Schumer Calls For All Planes To Be Fixed Immediately, Proposes Feds Pay For Half
Schumer takes Up Cause of Family Groups who have been leading Charge for Correction
After Crash Investigation, NTSB Found Fuel Tank Flammability at Fault, Recommended Explosion Prevention Devices for Planes, FAA Has Still Not Issued Mandate
As the ten year anniversary of the crash of TWA flight 800 approaches tomorrow and the flaw that caused the plane to crash still hasn’t been corrected, Schumer today called for all planes to be fitted with the anti flammability system the NTSB recommended almost a decade ago and for the Federal Government to pay for half of what it will cost to retrofit the existing fleet of planes with the necessary devices. Schumer’s action comes on the heels of similar calls by the family groups who have been leading the charge for this change.
“It’s been 10 years since this terrible accident, and the FAA continues to drag its feet on a fix that will save lives,” Schumer said. “If there was ever a case where a stitch in time saves nine, this is it. The FAA needs to mandate this fix, and it shouldn’t wait another day.”
On July 17, 1996 a TWA flight to Paris exploded off of the South Shore of Long Island killing all 230 people on board. After a long investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found that the crash resulted from a center fuel tank explosion. In response to the tragedy of Flight 800, the NTSB in December 1996 recommended that the FAA require that aircraft be fitted with nitrogen safety systems to make the fuel tanks less flammable. Similar systems were installed in military planes in the 1960’s and proved effective. The process by which this works is called inerting, nitrogen gets pumped into the plane’s engines, pushing out the oxygen. Without oxygen, experts say even a spark could not cause a fire because nitrogen does not burn.
Though the NTSB investigated the crash and made recommendations for change, it is up to the FAA to implement these changes. Nine years later, after intense lobbying form the families and other outside pressure the FAA issued a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) to require the nitrogen safety systems for center fuel tanks. A proposed rule is the first step in creating a new federal regulation. Agencies propose the rule and then leave a certain period of time for the public to comment. However as of today, the tenth anniversary of the Flight 800 disaster, nothing has been done. Public comment on the rule closed in May 2006, and there has been no movement forward on finalizing the regulation, or on implementing it.
In light of the fact that flammable gas tanks still post a great risk today Schumer called for all planes to be outfitted with the inerting technology and proposed that the Federal government pay for half of the retrofitting costs, or $404 million. Schumer said today that he will introduce a bill that would force the FAA to finalize the rule by the end of 2006 and authorize $400 million over the next 10 years to assist airlines in paying for retrofitting (up to a $1 to $1 match). In addition, Schumer’s bill will direct the FAA to study and act to improve the safety of fuel tanks located on the wings of planes. A wing fuel tank caused a major explosion of a Transmile Airlines 727 cargo plane in Bangalore, India in 2005.
Schumer also called on the Commerce Committee to investigate why it took the FAA 9 years to take any action.
Experts predict that it will cost $808 million to retrofit the 3800 planes in the current fleet of planes operating in the US that would need to make the adjustments. The new technology would be required for passenger planes with capacity for 30 passengers or more. Boeing has already agreed to outfit its new 787 plane with inerting systems but it will take implementation of a federal regulation to ensure that all airlines retrofit the existing fleet.
Since 1960, 17 airplanes have been destroyed as the result of a fuel tank explosion. Four fatal airplane accidents have been caused by fuel tank explosions since 1989.