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Gore Announces Cargo Hold Smoke Detectors Plan

Al Gore

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Dec. 12) -- Fourteen airline executives joined President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore this morning to announce improvements in airline safety. The effort was triggered by the fatal ValuJet crash earlier this year in Florida.

Gore, who heads a commission on airline safety, said airline executives have formally agreed "to voluntarily install fire detection systems in the cargo holds of some 3,700 airliners that carry the vast majority of Americans flying each year." (256K AIFF or WAV sound)

Gore noted that in 1988, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended commercial passenger planes be equipped with smoke detection and fire suppression systems, but the idea bogged down.

"With this announcement, virtually all of the airlines are saying that they're not going to wait for the regulatory process to catch up," Gore said. "They're moving forward on their own. They're jumping over the regulatory and the financial hurdles, and the winners will be the millions of Americans who fly on these planes." (288K AIFF or WAV sound)


Clinton, who spoke briefly, said the move is part of a long-range plan to make the skies safer and he thanked the executives for moving ahead voluntarily. "This is further proof of what we can achieve when we work together," Clinton said. (192K AIFF or WAV sound)

The plans to install fire detectors in the cargo holds of all jetliners come as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) moves forward with mandatory rules it proposed last month.

The FAA announced Nov. 14 that it was preparing regulations that would require more than 2,800 older airplanes to be fitted with cargo hold fire detection and suppression systems. New planes come with the safety equipment.

The heads of American, United, Northwest, Delta, USAir and Southwest airlines were at the White House meeting with Clinton and Gore.


The industry's acquiescence to the safety measure comes amid widespread suspicion that the May 11 ValuJet crash, which killed 110 people, stemmed from a fire in the DC-9 aircraft's cargo hold.

Relatives of the Valujet victims, interviewed on CNN, praised the new safety moves, but said they regretted that it took a tragedy to bring the changes about.

According to administration officials, the FAA has pushed for this step for years, but the Airline Transport Association resisted, citing the costs involved.

The airlines will begin installing the equipment early next year. Officials estimate it will cost $250 million to install the equipment in the nation's commercial fleet.

In addition to requiring fire detectors and flame suppressors in cargo compartments, the FAA rules would ban the transport of oxidizing chemicals. While the ValuJet crash is still under study, investigators are focused on oxygen generators in the cargo hold as a possible source of an on-board fire.

CNN's Wolf Blitzer contributed to this report.

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