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Thursday, August 12, 1999 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Faa Says 699 Planes Need New Insulation

Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON - The Federal Aviation Administration announced yesterday that it will require U.S. airlines to replace the insulation on 699 jetliners over the next four years in hopes of preventing a fire like the one that led to a deadly plane crash off eastern Canada last fall.

The FAA order, expected to take effect later this year, is designed to enable the airlines to meet new, stricter standards for testing the flame-retardant properties of metalized Mylar insulation. The agency plans to issue the standards in the next few months.

The changes, which will cost the airlines $300 million over four years to carry out fully, applies only to five kinds of aircraft - the MD-11, MD-80, MD-88, MD-90 and DC-10 - all built in Long Beach, Calif., by McDonnell Douglas, which is now owned by Boeing.

The FAA action comes in the wake of the crash of a Swissair MD-11 near Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia, last September, 13 minutes after the airplane's crew reported smoke in the cockpit. All 229 people on the wide-bodied jetliner died.

Both Boeing and the FAA said McDonnell Douglas had warned the airlines about the problem in August 1996 and advised that they replace the insulation.

But the FAA, which also found the Mylar insulation to be unusually flammable during separate tests in 1997, did not move immediately to order the material removed. FAA officials conceded yesterday that the danger became an urgent issue only after the Swissair crash.

The Swissair accident is still under investigation, but Canada's Transportation Safety Board issued a report yesterday that found the metalized Mylar insulation had been "a significant source" of the combustible materials that sustained the fire.

The FAA proposal fell short of a plan the agency had discussed in October that would have required the replacement of insulation in almost all commercial aircraft. But officials said earlier tests had shown that non-Mylar insulation was sufficiently flame-retardant.

The FAA said the order would apply to 699 U.S.-registered aircraft, owned by American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Continental Airlines, Trans World Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Federal Express, Reno Air, Aeromexico and US Airways.

Diana Cronan, spokeswoman for the Air Transport Association, which represents the nation's large airlines, said the industry was ready to cooperate in ensuring safety aboard commercial aircraft but had expressed concern to the FAA about "moving prematurely."

Copyright (c) 1999 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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