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Updated 10:47 PM

Old jets' wires may be riddled with cracks

By Gary Stoller, USA TODAY

Old airline jets may be flying with thousands of cracks in their electrical wiring, based on a USA TODAY analysis of a new Federal Aviation Administration report.

The report, which is being released Wednesday, was put together by an FAA task force that hired electrical engineers to test wire on six jets, each at least 20 years old.

A Boeing 747, an Airbus A300, a Lockheed L-1011 and two DC-9s had been retired by airlines within six months of the inspections, and a DC-10 was being converted to a cargo aircraft.

It inspected two DC-9s, an Airbus A300, a Boeing 747, a Lockheed L-1011 and a DC-10. Five of the jets had been retired within six months of the inspections, and the DC-10 was inspected as it was being converted to a cargo aircraft.

On the widebody L-1011, the task force's report said there were at least four cracks exposing bare wire in every 1,000 feet of wire tested.

Using 150 miles - the most conservative number of miles of wire that aircraft manufacturers say is on a widebody jet an L-1011 could have more than 3,100 wiring cracks, USA TODAY calculated.

"This is shocking evidence that reinforces the seriousness of the situation and should be alarming to the traveling public," says Rep. Tillie Fowler, R-Fla., who held a congressional hearing last week on aircraft wiring problems. "Time is of the essence for the FAA to move forward to solve the problems."

She said after last week's hearing that the FAA "has been negligent in its attempt to improve airline wiring and ensure the safety of the traveling public."

The FAA said it would not comment on any details of the task force's report until it is presented this afternoon to a joint FAA-airline industry committee.

At the subcommittee hearing last week, the FAA's Elizabeth Erickson testified that "there are no immediate fleetwide safety problems," but definite wiring-related improvements are needed in maintenance, inspection, training, aircraft design and other areas.

The Air Transport Association, which represents major airlines, had no one available to comment.

Cracks in aircraft wire could result in a short-circuit and a fire.

"Not every crack will cause a problem, but every crack could cause some type of problem, " says Vince Press, a spokesman for Lectromec, which tested wire for the FAA task force.

"A crack could cause the aircraft to receive a spurious signal or result in an electrical noise," he says. "It could also cause a spark or an electrical arc that may not cause any problem at all. Or it could cause a fire that knocks out an aircraft's vital systems."

Of the six aircraft tested by the FAA task force, one old DC-9 had the fewest cracks 0.50 per 1,000 feet of wire tested.

Experts say that narrow-body jets have 80 to 100 miles of electrical wire. Using the most conservative number 80 miles USA TODAY calculated that an old DC-9 could have 200 cracks.

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.



     A Valujet 592 Near Repeat                            A Pilot's eye view

     TWA800 Final Report cites Wiring             FAA unconcerned about wiring

     An ABC News Aircraft Wire Report           FAA sees no Urgency (MSNBC)

Expert says report obscures gravity of problem

Oct. 11, 2000

By Gary Stoller, USA TODAY

FAA wiring report reveals cracked wiring on old jets

A Federal Aviation Administration task force report on aircraft wiring is being denounced by one of the group's members.

The report, which is to be released today, cites problems found in inspections of six jets' wiring, but it does not make specific recommendations for action.

Edward Block, a private wiring expert and a consultant for families of air crash victims, says the FAA is trying to cover up wire problems by avoiding specific recommendations and obscuring the report's findings in dense, technical language.

''No amount of false categorization, obscure definitions or the scattering techniques used thoroughly in this report can diminish the safety of flight issues I witnessed personally,'' he says.

''No honest, objective person could ever say that the wiring we inspected was anything less than dangerous.''

The report is considered instrumental in determining the steps the FAA and the airline industry may take to address wiring problems that surfaced after TWA Flight 800 crashed in July 1996.

The National Transportation Safety Board said in August that an explosion of the center fuel tank on Flight 800 was most likely caused by a wiring short-circuit. A short-circuit can occur when a crack in a wire's insulation exposes its conductor.

FAA spokesman Les Dorr says the agency will not comment on the report before it is presented to a joint FAA-airline industry committee today.

He rejected USA TODAY's request for an interview with the FAA's Christopher Smith, chairman of the working group.

The working group, which consists mainly of government and industry employees, is part of a 2-year-old FAA program that was formed to address aging wiring issues. Block says the report does not clearly say that the overall condition of the wiring in the six planes inspected was ''deplorable.''

''Inches-high piles of flammable dust and lint were everywhere,'' he says. ''Multiple incidences of contamination of wire bundles with blue toilet water were also found.''

The inspections, he says, also revealed ''serious flaws'' in installation and maintenance practices.

''Exposed conductors, with evidence of arcing and burning, were found in nearly every aircraft,'' he says.

Wednesday, October 11, 2000 | Print this story

Study Shows Need for Wiring Upgrade

By RANDOLPH E. SCHMID, Associated Press Writer

     WASHINGTON -- Inspections of wiring on 81 airliners found "room for improvement" but no immediate safety problems, the Federal Aviation Administration reported Wednesday.
     While cracked insulation was found on wires in six recently retired planes, the cracks did not necessarily represent a hazard, said Elizabeth Erickson, director of aircraft certification for the Federal Aviation Administration.
     "Cracked wires do not, in and of themselves, represent an immediate safety problem," Erickson said in a discussion of the agency's program to study aircraft wiring. But, she added, "they are of concern to us."
     The FAA launched a program two years ago to study wiring in aircraft, particularly aging airliners. The advisory committee for that effort is meeting in Washington this week to review progress.
     The National Transportation Safety Board has concluded that the destruction of TWA flight 800 four years ago, killing all 230 aboard, resulted from a fuel tank explosion, probably caused by a short circuit.
     The FAA program studied airliners during their regular maintenance stops, looking specifically for wiring problems
     "They found no immediate fleetwide safety issues, but they found definite room for improvement in maintenance practices," Erickson said.
     Not all the problems were caused by aging, she added, noting, for example, that in some cases wiring insulation had been unintentionally damaged by work crews in tight areas.
     "We found a need for better targeted inspection out there in the fleet," she said.
     Erickson said Boeing and Airbus have advised airlines of problem areas so they can improve wiring inspections and noted maintenance reports are being changed to more completely show repairs made on wiring. The FAA is also improving its training of inspectors to better focus on wiring problems.
     Erickson said the agency is also working on the development of new, more sensitive circuit breakers to shut off power when a short occurs in a wire and on technology to check the condition of wires throughout a plane.
     Asked about reports that the cracked wiring found on the six retired airliners could mean some planes have hundreds of damaged wires, she insisted that assumption was incorrect.
     Those inspections targeted areas where wiring was under the most stress, areas where it was exposed to heat or cramped into a tight areas, she said.
     Those findings "can't be extrapolated to the whole of the aircraft," she said.
     The detailed wiring checks done on the six retired planes included removal of wiring bundles from various parts of the planes, a step that can't be done on aircraft that are still in service, she noted.
     The six planes included an Airbus A300, two DC-9s, a Boeing 747, a DC-10 and a Lockheed L-1011.
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