By Frank James

To prevent the catastrophic loss of a Boeing 767 from a fuel-tank explosion similar to the one that in 1996 caused the loss of TWA Flight 800, a Boeing 747, the Federal Aviation Administration today ordered airlines to install automatic shutoff systems for center fuel tanks, among other measures.

The order came in what is called an airworthiness directive from the agency. The directive was intended, the agency said, to prevent overheating 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."

According to The Associated Press:

The safety directive issued by the Federal Aviation Administration gives operators of the popular airliner three years to install an automatic fuel pump shut-off system for the center fuel tanks on 767s. The concern is that if fuel in the tanks becomes too low while the pump is still operating, under certain conditions it could ignite fuel and air vapors, causing an explosion.
In the meantime, flight crews are supposed to shut-off the pumps themselves when fuel gets low.
The estimated fleetwide cost of complying with the order is $4.6 million.
Boeing spokeswoman Liz Verdier said the Chicago-based aircraft manufacturer sent operators of 767s a service bulletin two years ago recommending the changes in Wednesday's FAA order. Compliance with service bulletins is voluntary. Verdier said she didn't know how many operators may have already installed the automatic shut-off systems.

A spark inside the fuel tank of TWA Flight 800 was implicated in the explosion of the Paris-bound jet shortly after its took off from New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport. The explosion and subsequent break up and crash of the aircraft off Long Island killed all 230 on board.

categories: Accidents and Disasters

7:18 - August 5, 2009