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Friday, August 17, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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FAA moves to improve aging wiring

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The Federal Aviation Administration is developing new training and maintenance programs to address the problem of decayed wiring on airplanes.

The action comes just over five years after the explosion of TWA Flight 800 off the coast of New York's Long Island. Federal safety investigators believe a spark in the wiring ignited vapors in a fuel tank. All 230 people aboard were killed.

Investigators also say wiring may have started the fire blamed for downing Swissair Flight 111 off the coast of Nova Scotia in September 1998, killing all 229 people on board.

While wiring is routinely looked at now, the FAA plans to order new steps immediately to improve the way airlines inspect and maintain their wiring systems.

A three-year study of older airplanes by an FAA task force found several problems with the wiring. In some cases, cracks appeared in the wire because it rubbed against the side of the airplane. Other times, maintenance workers damaged the wire trying to get to it to inspect it.

There were cases of high voltage wires lying across each other, running the risk of a spark jumping from one line to another.

The problem has grown more acute as airplanes age.

"The failure of electrical wiring may lead to loss of function or smoke and/or fire," the FAA said in a report yesterday.

"Wire degradation can occur with age and be accelerated by exposure to moisture, vibration and mechanical stress, and temperature variation."

The FAA told airline manufacturers to let the various airlines know of potential problems with wiring. The agency also will develop a handbook to help airlines create new maintenance and inspection programs.

An aviation consultant said the FAA is not going far enough.

Edward Block, who helped study airplane wiring for the task force, said the agency needs to impose standards for wire manufacturers to meet.

"The real issue is wire performance," said Block, chairman of the International Air Safety Foundation, a Pennsylvania-based advocacy group. "There's no test done on the wiring going into aircraft today."

Hickey said the agency was studying whether performance tests should be required for airplane wiring.

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