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FAA Unveils Plan To Enhance
Safety of Aging Aircraft Systems

Washington 10/01/98---

Transportation's Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Secretary of Transportation Rodney E. Slater and FAA Administrator Jane F. Garvey today announced a multi-year effort -- which includes both short- and long-term initiatives -- to address the safety and reliability of systems on commercial aircraft.

The FAA's Aging Transport Non-Structural Systems Plan responds to a recommendation by the White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security chaired by Vice President Gore.

"Safety is President Clinton's highest transportation priority and the 'north star' of our efforts at the Department of Transportation," Secretary Slater said. "This new initiative continues our work to fulfill the mandate of the White House Commission, which is a blueprint to help us make the world's safest aviation system even safer."

The White House Commission specifically recommended that the FAA work in cooperation with airlines and manufacturers to expand the FAA's aging aircraft program to include a variety of systems. These include electrical wiring, connectors, wiring harnesses, and cables; fuel, hydraulic and pneumatic lines; and electro-mechanical systems such as pumps, sensors, and actuators.

"Our aging structures program is successful because of the joint commitment of the government and the aviation industry," said Garvey. "This aging systems plan opens a new era of aviation safety and ensures we are identifying and addressing potential safety risks."

The Air Transport Association (ATA), in cooperation with the FAA and the airplane manufacturers, voluntarily launched an initial inspection program to enhance an already excellent maintenance program and identify potential problems with aging systems in the entire commercial fleet.

"The airlines remain relentlessly committed to safety and, in partnership with the FAA and aircraft manufacturers, have pledged their full resources and experience to ensuring the reliability of all commercial aircraft systems - regardless of age," said ATA President and CEO Carol B. Hallett. "The short-term information we are obtaining through our initial inspection program is already providing the building blocks for determining appropriate maintenance improvements, as well as long-term design enhancements to aircraft systems."

Teams of experts will study each specific aircraft model and produce model-specific aging systems actions. Chairing the review will be Kent Hollinger, vice president for quality assurance and engineering at America West Airlines.

The FAA expects to propose regulations by the end of the year to require certain aircraft manufacturers to demonstrate that fuel system designs remain safe and prevent possible ignition sources in the fuel tank. The manufacturer would be required to conduct a design review to determine any additional maintenance practices needed to maintain the integrity of airplane fuel tank wiring. The airlines would be required to comply with the regulations once the maintenance practices are developed.

Typically, air carriers use three types of wiring checks. Zonal inspections, conducted every two years, examine the condition of exposed wire bundles and connectors. Airworthiness Directives (ADs) mandate corrective actions. Inspections of flight critical systems, such as autoland, are routinely conducted by airlines. Research will determine if a service-life limit is warranted for aircraft wiring.

Under the Aging Transport Non-Structural Systems Plan, the longer-term initiatives will:

  • Enhance airplane maintenance to better address aging airplane systems;
  • Improve wiring installation drawings and instructions for continuing airworthiness;
  • Evaluate the need for additional maintenance of transport airplane fuel system wiring and address any unsafe conditions;
  • Add aging systems tasks to the aging airplane research program; and
  • Improve reporting of accident/incident and maintenance actions involving wiring system components.

The FAA's Plan is based on one year of extensive research. The FAA held maintenance inspector workshops and meetings with an airplane manufacturer to discuss aging non-structural system issues. These efforts revealed that current maintenance practices for systems are too general and that standard repair practices are needed. In addition, a team of experts from the FAA and The Boeing Company inspected five aging aircraft: three DC-10s, a DC-9 and a Boeing 727, with significant flight hours or age undergoing heavy maintenance. The team did not find any problems that would require taking aircraft out of service but did see a need to improve inspections and maintenance practices.

The FAA's aging aircraft program requires the FAA administrator to prescribe regulations that ensure the structural airworthiness of aging aircraft. This proactive program focuses on defining requirements for maintaining aircraft through improved inspections and repair practices. It ensures that the structural safety level assumed to have existed at the time the aircraft was first FAA-approved is maintained for as long as the aircraft operates. Through the cooperative efforts of government and industry, the FAA's aging aircraft program has improved aviation safety in the United States and throughout the world.

The FAA's Aging Transport Non-Structural Systems Plan is available on the World Wide Web at: www.faa.gov under the Office of Public Affairs' "reports & publications" site.


The Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) Aging Aircraft Systems responds to a February 1997 recommendation by the White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security, chaired by Vice President Al Gore. The Commission recommended that FAA work with industry to expand its aging aircraft program to cover wiring, hydraulic lines, control cables and pneumatic devices.

Background on FAA's Aging Aircraft Program FAA's aging aircraft program is a joint effort with industry established after an Aloha Airlines accident in 1988. -- FAA prescribes regulations that ensure the structural airworthiness of aging aircraft. Focus is on defining requirements for maintaining aircraft through modifications, enhanced inspections and improved repair practices. -- Through cooperative efforts of government and industry, the FAA's aging aircraft program has improved aviation safety throughout the world.

The Challenge The FAA's safety goal is that, as aircraft get older, both structural and non-structural components must be adequately inspected and maintained as long as a plane remains in commercial service. The challenge is to develop maintenance and inspection practices for aircraft systems that will adequately address aging aircraft components. -- As airplanes age, the requirements for inspections, repairs and parts replacement change, and many times, increase. -- Each transport aircraft model has a system design requiring maintenance and inspections unique to that aircraft. -- U.S. fleet has a mix of older airplanes and newer, highly computerized aircraft. Aging systems in each type also must be addressed differently.

Developing New Knowledge Much new information on the state of aging aircraft systems has come to light over the last several years. Taking that knowledge, the FAA developed several initiatives to determine how these systems perform in actual operations. -- FAA/Boeing team evaluated five typical "aging" aircraft: three DC-10s, a DC-9, a Boeing 727, with special emphasis on wiring, lightning protection and flight control systems. -- FAA held meetings with maintenance inspectors and Boeing engineers to discuss aging systems concerns. -- Using accident and incident databases, the FAA identified trends in aging systems. -- FAA continued its specific investigation of fuel tank wiring that began with Boeing 747s and 737s. -- Review found that some wiring systems were difficult to inspect and there were insufficient inspection criteria for corrosion on some flight control and hydraulic components.

Seven Steps to Safer Systems The FAA Aging Systems plan combines regulatory actions, focused inspections, research, training and advice from the aviation community. It includes seven initiatives to enhance the safety of non-structural aircraft components. In-depth review of the aging aircraft fleet and safety recommendations for specific aircraft -- The program targets certain aircraft in the U.S. fleet to assess the impact of age on systems. A joint FAA/industry task force will evaluate service histories and bulletins for each aircraft model. The FAA will take regulatory actions as needed. Enhance airplane maintenance to better address aging airplane systems. -- The FAA will revise guidance for inspectors to improve examination of wiring, identify corrosion of systems, avoid contamination of wiring, identify maintenance and inspection intervals, review training programs, and revise maintenance guidance. -- The Air Transport Association (ATA), working with the FAA and aircraft manufacturers, recently produced a wiring practices document ("Spec 117") that is recommended for use by all operators who do not now have those practices in their safety programs. Add aging systems tasks to the FAA research program. -- Research tasks will develop ways to better determine the current condition of aging wiring components, determine if the estimated life for the wiring is appropriate and establish new criteria as needed. -- The program will help develop new wiring inspection technologies that do not require disassembly of components. -- The plan also will examine how aging affects electromagnetic and lightning protection systems. Improve reporting of accidents, incidents and maintenance actions involving aircraft wiring systems -- The FAA will ask ATA to develop codes that better identify wiring system component failures and maintenance actions. -- The plan seeks to improve the reporting format for accidents, incidents and maintenance actions, and adds data bases to improve analysis of aging systems. Evaluate the need for additional maintenance of transport airplane fuel system wiring and address any unsafe conditions -- FAA is reviewing service problems in the U.S. fleet to identify any unsafe conditions in fuel system wiring, and will take corrective actions as needed. -- FAA will propose a Special Federal Aviation Regulation (SFAR) to require certain aircraft manufacturers to show that fuel system designs preclude ignition sources. Manufacturers would have to conduct a design review to determine if any additional maintenance practices are needed to maintain fuel tank wiring safety. Air carriers would be required to implement those practices. Improve wiring installation drawings and instructions for continuing airworthiness -- Industry will define "best practices" for wiring modifications -- Program will develop training aids for wiring system installation, and a job aid for evaluating the adequacy of installation drawings and airworthiness instructions. Establish an Aging Transport Systems Advisory Committee to coordinate the Plans' initiatives. -- Program calls for the committee to start fleet reviews, coordinate efforts with other government agencies, identify training needs for FAA engineers and inspectors and hold annual workshops for maintenance personnel.

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