U.S. requires anti-explosion airplane fuel tank device

2008-07-17 06:46:30 GMT       2008-07-17 14:46:30 (Beijing Time)       Xinhua English

BEIJING, July 17 (Xinhuanet) -- U.S. federal officials on Wednesday said a device to prevent airplane fuel tanks from exploding must be installed on certain passenger jets and cargo planes.

The new safety requirement comes 12 years after such an explosion destroyed the Paris-bound TWA Flight 800, killing all 230 people onboard the Boeing 747.

Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said passenger and cargo planes that have center wing fuel tanks such as the Boeing 747. The rule also requires airlines to retrofit 2,730 existing Airbus and Boeing passenger planes over the next nine years with center wing fuel tanks with the changes.

"We believe this will save lives," said National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Mark Rosenker, who joined Peters at a press conference at the safety board's training facility here, where TWA Flight 800 has been partially reconstructed from pieces of the aircraft retrieved from the ocean. "This is the big one for us as it relates to important solutions for fuel tank safety."

Manufacturers have two years in which to comply with the rule, although Boeing is already making some new planes with the changes.

The change brings to a close a long and troubled chapter in federal aviation safety. The National Transportation Safety Board identified the cause of the explosion ─ the ignition of oxygen in a partially empty fuel tank that had been sitting for hours in the sun before takeoff ─ not long after the accident. But the FBI initially thought the explosion was the result of a bomb and it was unclear for a time which agency ─ the FBI or the NTSB ─ was in charge of the investigation.

The Federal Aviation Administration proposed a rule to prevent future explosions in 2005, but the aviation industry balked, saying the cost was too high.

The final rule requires aircraft manufacturers and passenger airlines to install devices that replace oxygen, which is highly explosive, with inert nitrogen in fuel tanks as they empty.

(Agencies)

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