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Thursday, December 16, 1999 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Ntsb: Changes Needed In MD-11 Electrical Units

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) yesterday recommended mandatory changes in MD-11 aircraft - the type of Swissair plane that crashed in 1998 amid reports of smoke in the cockpit - after determining that an electrical unit could cause a fire.

The NTSB said the units, which are in the plane's forward cargo hold, should be modified, insulated and upgraded with better circuit breakers to guard against fires.

In a letter to the head of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), NTSB Chairman Jim Hall said he was recommending the mandatory action after investigating three recent incidents in which the forward cargo-control unit (CCU) caused a fire or showed signs of melting.

"The safety board is also concerned about the risks of a CCU-related fire during passenger loading and unloading, and that a ground fire could propagate without detection until an airplane is airborne," Hall wrote to FAA Administrator Jane Garvey.

Both Boeing, which bought McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the MD-11, and Lucas Aerospace Cargo Systems, which manufactures the control unit, have recommended or are preparing to recommend similar repairs.

The FAA does review NTSB recommendations, but in most cases, the agency accepts them.

Swissair Flight 111, an MD-11 bound from New York to Geneva, crashed in September 1998 off the coast of Nova Scotia 16 minutes after the pilots reported smoke in the cockpit. All 229 aboard were killed.

The cause of the accident still has not been determined, but investigators believe there may have been an electrical fire near the cockpit that spread in the plane's insulation.

The FAA has ordered airlines to replace the type of insulation used aboard the plane over the next four years.

The NTSB is participating in the investigation, but its letter did not refer to the Swissair crash.

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

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