Jet Fuel Tanks Declared Safe

A three-year study launched in the wake of the crash of TWA Flight 800 has concluded that airline fuel tanks are safe, industry trade groups said today.

”The world’s commercial aircraft fleet continues to be safe and that includes the fuel systems,” said Robert Peel, director of air worthiness and technical standards of the Air Transport Association, the airline industry trade association.

He said more than 100,000 work hours were spent inspecting 990 aircraft operated by 160 airlines as part of the program launched in August 1997.

Questions about the safety of airline fuel tanks had been raised during the investigation of the crash of TWA Flight 800, which exploded on July 17, 1996, crashing into the ocean off the coast of New York’s Long Island. All 230 aboard the Boeing 747 bound from New York to Paris were killed.

The cause of the disaster remains unsolved four years later and the National Transportation Safety Board is scheduled to hold a meeting next week to discuss that question.

Tank Exploded, But Why? Investigators have determined that the plane’s center fuel tank exploded but have so far not reported the cause of that blast.

Speculation focused on a variety of possibilities including static electricity, faulty wiring and vapor in the tank, so the ATA and the Aerospace Industries Association launched their study to assess the fuel systems.

Their report concludes that the fuel tank systems are soundly designed and do not degrade over time.

“After all of this work, we did not discover any major safety problems,” Peel said in a statement.

However, the report did note that there had been suggestions that the use of metal conduits to carry wiring through tanks might result in “degradation” of the wiring.

“This finding was confirmed during the inspection program and is being addressed accordingly,” the report said.

The group issued some suggestions for improvements, including better maintenance instructions, periodic inspections for fuel quantity measurement wiring, periodic inspection of fuel pumps and their wiring, fuel lines and fittings and a review of the use of metal conduits in fuel tanks.