FAA to loosen fuel-tank safety rules, benefiting Boeing’s 787

Link to Original:  http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/cgi-bin/PrintStory.pl?document_id=2008719843&zsection_id=2003750727&slug=lightning08&date=20090208

 

Seattle Times aerospace reporter

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has quietly decided to loosen stringent fuel-tank safety regulations written after the 1996 fuel-tank explosion that destroyed flight TWA 800 off the coast of New York state.

The FAA proposes to relax the safeguards for preventing sparks inside the fuel tank during a lightning strike, standards the agency now calls “impractical” and Boeing says its soon-to-fly 787 Dreamliner cannot meet.

Instead of requiring three independent protection measures for any feature that could cause sparking, the revised policy would allow some parts to have just one safeguard.

Boeing has worked closely with the FAA to make the change in time for the 787 Dreamliner, whose airframe built of composite plastic makes lightning protection a special challenge.

But the move has stirred intense opposition inside the local FAA office from the technical specialists — most of them former Boeing engineers — responsible for certifying new airplane designs.

The national union representing about 190 Seattle-based FAA engineers this past Tuesday submitted a formal critique to the agency, calling the new policy “an unjustified step backward in safety.”

In a lightning storm, the critique said, the less stringent rules could leave a commercial airliner “one failure away from catastrophe.”

 

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