Federal safety investigators say they are
dismayed the Boeing Co. would study fuel tank problems on its jumbo
jets but then fail for years to disclose their findings.
The Washington Post, in today's editions, quotes National Safety
Transportation Board officials as saying the Boeing report could
have helped them focus on the problem -- fuel tank overheating --
that was an apparent factor in the explosion of TWA Flight 800 over
Long Island Sound in 1996.
According to the Post, Boeing produced the report in 1980 but
did not give it to the NTSB until this June.
The four-volume report focused on a key issue that preoccupied
TWA Flight 800 investigators -- excess heat from the air
conditioning bay of its E-4B jet, the military version of its 747,
possibly creating highly flammable fuel vapors in the plane's
central fuel tank.
In a written statement Friday, the NTSB expressed
"displeasure" and "dismay" about Boeing's delay.
A Boeing spokesman said today that the differences between the
two versions of the airframe make the report largely irrelevant to
the TWA investigation.
Russ Young said the report was missed by investigators in the
company's commercial airplane group because it dealt with a
military aircraft. The company's procedures have been changed so
that will not happen again, he said.
"In retrospect, although the relevance of that (report) is
questionable, we wish we had found it earlier and passed it
along," Young said. "There didn't seem to be any realization on
the military side (of the company) that the investigation was
relevant or potentially relevant."
The General Accounting Office, which conducts congressional
probes, in recent months has been interviewing employees at Boeing
and the Air Force, which commissioned the 1980 report. The Post
quoted sources as saying the investigators have no evidence of an
"This was too important to fall through the cracks," Sen.
Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, chairman of the subcommittee that
oversees airline disaster investigations, told the newspaper.
Grassley said the TWA 800 tragedy could have been prevented if
Boeing had volunteered its report after a 1990 fuel tank explosion
on different model Boeing jet, a Philippines Airline 737, at the
Manila airport, killed eight people.
The NTSB said it did not learn of the 1980 report until last
March, when it was listed on the agenda for a meeting of an Air
Force task force studying the safety implications of the TWA Flight
800 explosion for the E-4B.
The NTSB is hoping to complete by next spring its report on the
TWA Flight 800 explosion, which killed all 230 people aboard.