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FAA Latest Action On Airliners' Exploding Fuel Tanks

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The tenth anniversary of TWA Flight 800, a Boeing 747 that exploded off Long Island, killing all 230 people aboard, passed on July 17, 2006, and in the Aug. 5, 2009, Federal Register, the FAA published an airworthiness directive designed to address the potential problem in Boeing 767 aircraft. The latest Final Rule from the FAA, aimed at preventing aircraft fuel tanks from blowing up, adopts for all Boeing 767 aircraft a requirement to have automatic shutoff systems for the auxiliary fuel tank override pumps and advise crews of certain operating restrictions. The new airworthiness directive aims to "prevent an overheat condition" that "could cause an ignition source for the fuel vapors in the fuel tank and result in fuel tank explosions and consequent loss of the airplane." When pondering a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on the subject back in 2005, the FAA noted that its computer models suggested that, on average, aircraft would suffer a fuel tank explosion every four years. In 2006, a Boeing 727-200's right-wing fuel tank blew up while the aircraft was on the ground at Bangalore, India. There are other examples.

In March 2001, a Thai Airways 737-400 exploded while sitting on a hot ramp at Bangkok's domestic airport. The NTSB released information that the recorded sound of the explosion was found similar to that of a Philippine Airlines 737-300 that suffered a center-wing fuel-tank explosion in May 1990. In November 2002 emergency airworthiness directives were issued for Boeing 737 models. The system takes compressed air from the engines and passes it through a membrane that separates oxygen and nitrogen.

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