U.S Announces New Safety Requirement for Airplane Fuel Tanks

Transportation Secretary Mary Peters announced Wednesday a new safety requirement for airplanes, the Associated Press reports. New passenger jets and cargo planes that have center wing fuel tanks will be required to install a device that prevents airplane fuel tanks from exploding.

The rule also requires airlines with existing Airbus and Boeing passenger planes to retrofit the aircraft (2,730 in existence) with center fuel wing tanks with the changes over the next nine years. Manufacturers have been given two years to comply with the rule, and Boeing is already making new planes with the changes. A final rule of the new safety measure requires all aircraft manufacturers and passenger airlines to install devices that will replace oxygen with inert nitrogen in fuel tanks as they empty.

The rule is instated as a direct response to the crash of TWA 800, a Boeing 747 that exploded off the coast of Long Island on July 17, 1996, after taking off from JFK International Airport. The National Transportation Safety Board identified the ignition of oxygen in a partially empty fuel tank that had been sitting for hours in the sun before takeoff as the cause of the explosion.

According to Peters, the cost of installing the new technology will range from $92,000 to $311,000 per aircraft. She added that the cost could be as little as one-tenth of 1 percent of the cost of a new aircraft.

Federal Aviation Administration Acting Administrator Robert Sturgell estimated that the cost to the airline industry would be about $1 billion.

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