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Top Stories News - updated 6:39 PM ET Oct 11
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Wednesday October 11 4:26 PM ET
Wire Cracks Found in Tests of Older Jets

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Cracked insulation was found in the wires of six older, recently retired aircraft, but the Federal Aviation Administration (news - web sites) said Wednesday it had no immediate safety concerns.

Engineers removed wires from high-stress areas of the aircraft that were more than 20 years old as part of a government-industry task force effort to determine the extent to which aging wiring may threaten safety.

``Cracks in wire do not in and of themselves present an immediate safety concern,'' FAA aircraft certification director Beth Erickson told reporters, noting that cracked insulation alone need not cause a problem unless it shorts with another wire or the plane.

The aviation industry became sharply focused on wiring after the 1996 crash of a TWA Boeing 747 (NYSE:BA - news) near New York that was blamed on a likely short circuit in its center fuel tank.

The investigation of a fiery Swissair (SWSZn.S) MD-11 crash off the east coast of Canada in 1998 has focused on wiring in the cockpit.

USA Today reported Wednesday that, in one of the aircraft examined, a Lockheed L-1011 wide-bodied jet, four cracks were found in every 1,000 feet of wire tested.

The newspaper calculated the aircraft could have more than 3,100 wiring cracks, assuming roughly 150 miles of wiring in the whole aircraft.

But Erickson said that number exaggerated the problem as the wire was taken from problem areas involving heat stress or tight turns that can abuse wire insulation.

``It's not right to extrapolate,'' she said.

FAA declined to make the report available saying it was being delivered to the task force later Wednesday in preliminary form.

Erickson said FAA had issued numerous directives on improving wiring in specific aircraft and more would likely be forthcoming as more data became available.

The other five aircraft involved in the intrusive inspections were an Airbus (ARBU.UL) A300, a DC-9, a 747 and a DC-10.

As of last month, U.S. airlines were operating 1,709 jets that are at least 20 years old, according to Christine Francoeur, president of Jet Information Services, which publishes the World Jet Inventory. Worldwide, airlines were operating 3,270 jets that old, she says.

FAA said a separate non-intrusive inspection of 81 aircraft still in service had shown no fleet-wide safety concerns, but had pointed to a need to improve maintenance practices, training and better reporting of wire faults.

Work was also proceeding on an advanced circuit breaker that could detect damaging wiring shorts sometimes undetected by existing technology, or detected after major damage has occurred.

Two contracts have been issued to companies working on devices that will allow maintenance workers to test wires for faults without disturbing wire bundles. Experts say the very act of moving wires around to inspect them can cause damage.

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Old Jets Flying with Wiring Cracks-USA Today (October 11)

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