To better prevent ice from building up in airplanes, the Federal Aviation Administration will issue a new safety rule in the next few days, the FAA told ABC News today.
The FAA is rethinking the subject of ice in plane fuel systems due to a report released today in the United Kingdom that details what caused a British Airways plane to crash at Heathrow Airport in January. The initial investigation report from the U.K.'s Air Accidents Investigation Branch found that the flow of fuel to both of the plane's engines was cut off, likely by ice that accumulated in the plane on previous flights in cold air at high altitudes. The report said that both engines consequently lost power just before landing.
The British Airways flight, a Boeing 777, crashed on Jan. 17, 2008, with 136 travelers and 16 crew members on board. Twelve people had minor injuries and one suffered a serious injury.
FAA spokesperson Les Dorr said today that the upcoming aviation changes do not mean there is a safety emergency, but that they will be "immediately adoptable," meaning airlines must put the new safey rule into practice without delay.
Planes that fly in very cold temperatures would be more susceptible to the problem. On this particular flight, the fuel temperature went down to an unusually cold minus 29 degrees Fahrenheit as the plane flew over Siberia, the report said.
"The ice is likely to have formed from water that occurred naturally in the fuel whilst the aircraft operated for a long period, with low fuel flows, in an unusually cold environment, " the report stated.
Still, the question remains as to whether similar planes, as well as other types of aircraft, are at risk of ice accumulating. Accident investigators said they aren't certain but recommend that the possibility be investigated.
According to the FAA, there are 228 Boeing 777's worldwide that have the same type of Rolls-Royce engine as the British Airways plane. Of those, 56 are in the United States, flown by Delta and American airlines.
Today's accident report recommended that in the short term, the European Aviation Safety Agency, the FAA and others should immediately figure out if this problem could happen in similar planes.
Looking further ahead, the designs of aircrafts' fuel systems may need to be changed a bit to ensure this doesn't happen again, the report also concluded. It also recommended that regulatory agencies should also review their rules to make sure certification systems consider whether planes are susceptible to ice buildup.
"When it comes to aviation safety, there are shared interests that transcend national borders," said Mark Rosenker, acting chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, in a statement.
He said the report's recommendations "show how international cooperation can lead to safety improvements that benefit the aviation community worldwide."
Dorr said today that the new safety directive will change some pilot operating procedures for the 777 planes. The changes will involve throttle settings while in flight and will also require some fuel circulation procedures while the planes are on the ground.
Editor's Note: Story has been corrected to say that the plane's engines lost power just before landing, not takeoff.