Fuel tank inerting for commercial aircraft, using nitrogen to fill the empty space in fuel tanks "is looking much more practical, but technical issues are still being addressed," says Federal Aviation Administration chief Jane Garvey.

If inerting is adopted, it will be a U-turn from the FAA's expected policy, which was to make all the tank electrical components and wiring safer. Garvey says a final position will be established before the 22-23 August National Transportation Safety Board hearing on the TWA crash in July 1996, in which a Boeing 747-100 was downed by a fuel tank explosion.

The FAA may require airlines to pump nitrogen, an inert gas, into the empty space in fuel tanks before take off.

The change in thinking appears to have been influenced by the fact that inerting could be a more cost-effective solution than at first believed, compared with the measures required to prevent associated electrical components ever developing a fault.

Source: Flight International