FAA Mandates Fuel-Tank Changes For Airlines

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U.S. airlines are already reeling from high fuel prices and a slack economy, and on Wednesday the FAA dropped a $700 million cost into the mix -- that's the estimate to retrofit about 3,000 airliners with fuel-tank systems intended to prevent explosions like the one that destroyed TWA Flight 800 in 1996. New aircraft will be required to have the systems. "Our intent today is to close the door on fuel-tank explosions," said FAA Acting Administrator Bobby Sturgell at a news conference announcing the new policy. FAA engineers and scientists have developed an inerting system that works -- "Something early on people said could not be done," said Sturgell. The NTSB, which has listed such systems on its Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements since 2002, welcomed the decision. "The NTSB congratulates the DOT and the FAA on this important safety achievement," said NTSB Chairman Mark Rosenker.

"From tragedy we draw knowledge to improve safety and today's announcement represents a significant step toward avoiding future aviation accidents of this nature." The new rule should have gone further, though, according to the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, which represents the FAA's aircraft certification engineers. "NATCA recommends the FAA extend the flammability requirements adopted today for center wing tanks and other fuel tanks inside the airplane to [include] wing tanks," according to a NATCA news release. TWA Flight 800 was en route from New York to Paris when it exploded and broke apart above the Atlantic Ocean near Long Island, killing all 230 souls on board.