Airlines will not be required to retrofit aircraft with insulation blankets that meet tougher flammability standards under new rules proposed by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Prompted by incidents in which thermal/acoustic insulation materials may have increased the severity of fires, the proposed new flammability test criteria specifically address flame propagation and fuselage burn through.

In addition to reducing the propensity for insulation materials to propagate fire, the new standards aim to increase post-crash safety by delaying the entry of external fire into the cabin, providing more evacuation time.

The FAA proposes that all new aircraft should comply with the tougher standards within two years of the new rule taking effect, applying to all transport category aircraft, including business jets and freighters.

Rather than requiring wholesale retrofit of the in-service fleet, the FAA proposes that replacement insulation blankets installed during maintenance should meet the new flame propagation standard. This "would provide for the gradual attrition of earlier materials," proposes the tougher new rules.

The burn-through protection standard, meanwhile, would apply only to newly manufactured aircraft with 20 seats of more, and only to those entering airline service. Only insulation materials in the lower fuselage would have to meet the new standard.

According to FAA calculations, the combined effect of these caveats is to limit the estimated cost of the proposed rulemaking to $68 million over 20 years if only blanket material changes are required, and to just over $103 million if aircraft manufacturers also have to make blanket configuration changes.

Source: Flight International