FAA ruling may cost aerospace industry $165 million

The US Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued a rule that requires aeroplane manufacturers and operators to change how fuel tanks are designed, maintained and operated.

The FAA rule includes a Special Federal Aviation Regulation (SFAR) to minimise the potential for failures that could cause ignition sources in fuel tanks on new and existing aeroplanes. It also includes a regulation that, for the first time, mandates aeroplane design changes to minimise the flammability of fuel tanks on new aeroplanes.

‘Although aviation remains an incredibly safe way to travel, our extensive research and evaluation of past design philosophies and certification practices show that it’s time for a new approach to fuel tank safety,’ said FAA Administrator Jane F. Garvey. ‘The FAA’s rule is an aggressive plan that will certainly raise the bar in aviation safety.’

Since the Trans World Airlines (TWA) 800 accident in July 1996, the FAA has focused on the three fundamental areas that keep aeroplane fuel tanks safe: the prevention of ignition sources, fuel flammability, and fuel tank inerting. Based on recent FAA and industry research and tests, the Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee (ARAC) continues to evaluate fuel tank inerting and is expected to make recommendations to the agency in July.

The SFAR portion of the rule affects 6,971 transport aeroplanes with 30 or more seats manufactured by Airbus, Aerospatiale (ATR), Boeing, British Aerospace, Bombardier, De Havilland, Dornier, Embraer, Fokker, Lockheed, Saab and Shorts. The SFAR amends current FAA rules for both existing and new model aeroplanes.

Manufacturers have 18 months from June 6 2001 to conduct safety reviews and develop maintenance and inspection programs required by the SFAR. Operators have 36 months from June 6 to incorporate an FAA-approved maintenance and inspection program into their operating procedures.

These initiatives are estimated to cost the industry $165 million over 10 years. Specifically, the fuel tank review will cost $38 million; changes to maintenance and inspection programs will cost $92 million; lost net revenue will cost $24 million and additional recordkeeping requirements will cost $10 million.