FAA to issue new rules to prevent fuel tank fires

Thursday, May 3rd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ To reduce the chances of explosions, airlines will have to change the way they design, maintain and operate fuel tanks under new rules to be issued this month by the Federal Aviation Administration.

The new regulations are designed to keep the fuel tanks away from possible ignition sources. Airlines will have to inspect the tanks and make changes if necessary to reduce the chance of fire. Fuel tank fires have been blamed for the explosion of TWA Flight 800 in 1996 and a fire on board a Thai Airways plane in March.

The rules are expected to be released in the next week or so, FAA spokesman Paul Takemoto said. The agency first indicated that it was looking at issuing new rules for fuel tanks in 1999.

The new rules will affect around 7,000 airplanes of all makes and models.

Last week, the FAA ordered airlines to shut off fuel pumps on Boeing 737s when there is a low level of fuel remaining in the center tank. The Thai Airways plane was a Boeing 737; TWA Flight 800 was a Boeing 747.

The National Transportation Safety Board has made several recommendations to reduce the chances of a fuel tank fire, including requiring a certain amount of fuel in the tank before turning on the pump, installing insulation between the fuel tanks and heat-generating equipment, and pumping in gases that don't ignite in order to reduce the amount of air in a fuel tank. The NTSB has listed its fuel tank recommendations among its most-wanted safety improvements.

Another NTSB suggestion is the focus of a joint airline industry-FAA task force. The group is looking at whether to recommend that airlines pump nitrogen gas, which doesn't burn, into fuel tanks to reduce the amount of air and therefore the flammability of the fuel-air mixture. A recommendation is expected in July.