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Update on FAA Regulations
Posted on February 16, 2005


Crash of Flight 111 homepage

After "Crash of Flight 111" originally aired, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said it was not offered a fair opportunity to provide information and that NOVA relied heavily on sources that it regarded as questionable. NOVA has since invited both the FAA and independent experts to address these concerns and update certain claims made in the original broadcast.

For instance, the program claims that the FAA has implemented few of the 23 safety recommendations made by the Canadian Transportation Safety Board (TSB). The FAA says it is addressing all 23 recommendations, though implementation may not be exactly as proposed. The goal, it adds, is to meet the "intent" of the recommendations, which is flight safety.

Commenting on the assertion that MPET (metalized Mylar), the material that added to the fire on Swissair Flight 111, remains in many airplanes, the FAA notes that making the required changes takes time. However, since the June 2005 deadline is just months away, most airplanes will have been modified by now. As for the removal of other insulation coverings in thousands of planes (the majority of the U.S commercial fleet: Mylar in Boeing and Airbus jets, some foam insulation in Airbus, etc.), the FAA says it is considering a proper course of action but feels regulations do not warrant removal of old materials simply because they fail to meet new standards. According to an FAA spokesman, "While not state of the art, these materials"—foam insulation, for instance—"are not unsafe."

The FAA denies it is ignoring the TSB's call for an integrated fire-fighting philosophy and points to an advisory circular entitled "In-Flight Fires" that it published on January 4, 2004. Finally, both the FAA and an independent expert contradict a statement by Ken Adams. In the program, Adams, who represented the Air Line Pilots Association during the investigation, claimed that regulations have not changed and new planes such as the Boeing 7E7 and Airbus 380 do not have to provide any more fire detection or fire protection than on Flight 111. According to the FAA, a more stringent flammability test has been mandated for newly built aircraft, and the requirement takes effect in September 2005. Both the new Boeing and Airbus planes will have advanced electrical-system protection and will feature low flammability materials.—Evan Hadingham, NOVA's Senior Science Editor

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