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NTSB urges new fuel-tank safety measures for airlines


Recommendations come in wake of TWA probe

December 13, 1996
Web posted at: 10:00 p.m. EST

NEW YORK (CNN) -- The National Transportation Safety Board urged the Federal Aviation Administration Friday to require airlines to make design and operational changes to reduce the danger of center fuel tank explosions -- and perhaps avert an explosion like the one that brought down TWA Flight 800.

The NTSB said the urgent recommendations were a result of its "ongoing investigation into TWA Flight 800," but emphasized "investigators have not reached any conclusions as to the cause of the accident."

The FAA issued a statement late Friday saying it would review the NTSB recommendations "very carefully."

The center fuel tank has been a key area of interest in the probe into the tragic explosion of the Paris-bound Boeing 747. All 230 people on board were killed July 17 when the plane exploded and plunged into the Atlantic Ocean off New York's Long Island.

The agency did say that reconstruction of portions of the plane showed "deformation of the internal components of the tank that are consistent with an explosion originating in the tank."

Recently, the NTSB has focused on the possibility that static electricity may have sparked the blast.

Other proposals

The NTSB recommendations cover all "transport category aircraft" but specified that on Boeing 747s, "consideration should be given to refueling the center-wing fuel tank before flight whenever possible from cooler ground tanks."

It also urged "proper monitoring and management of the center fuel-wing tank temperature and maintaining an appropriate minimum fuel quantity in the center fuel tank."

On TWA Flight 800, the center fuel tank was nearly empty.

"It is not uncommon for the NTSB in the normal process of an investigation to come across significant safety issues. This is such a case," Peter Goelz, NTSB director of government and public affairs, told CNN.

"We believe that the danger of an empty center fuel tank exploding under certain circumstances needs to be addressed in an urgent manner by the FAA," he said.

The FAA issued a statement late Friday promising to review the NTSB recommendations "very carefully."

When asked whether tanks could pose any immediate danger to passengers, Goelz said, "This is a very rare situation, but obviously when we uncover what could be a safety problem we are obligated to act on it."


The agency also recommended moving hot air compressors on new airplanes so they don't heat up fuel tanks, adding chemicals to the tanks to reduce the volatility of the air-fuel mixture, and not allowing jets to languish on hot runways.

Blast cause still elusive

FBI Assistant Director James Kallstrom said the NTSB recommendations were "prudent" based on what investigators have known for some months -- that the fuel tanks blew up. But he said investigators were no closer to determining what triggered the blast.

"There is nothing in that report that adds or subtracts from the three theories: missile, bomb or mechanical failure," Kallstrom said.

"We've always known that the center fuel tank exploded. We just don't know what made it explode."


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