During these global recessionary times where one often hears how difficult it is for the airline industry to make money, I was wondering if I could ask your opinion on how you felt this impacted the safety of the aircraft themselves.
Of particular interest/concern of me is the reports that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has quietly decided to loosen stringent fuel-tank safety regulations written after the 1996 fuel-tank explosion that destroyed flight TWA 800 off the coast of New York state.
I believe the FAA has relaxed the safeguards for preventing sparks inside the fuel tank during a lightning strike, as these standards the agency now calls "impractical" and coincidentally Boeing says its 787 Dreamliner cannot meet (its airframe is apparently built of composite plastic which makes lightning protection difficult).
Whilst I know this is a rather specific example, do you feel that this is symptomatic of an erosion in airline safety standards due to modern economic times, and do you think it could become more widespread?
I find it not very easy to comment on this issue fully but I tend to go with the manufacturer (I am not a Boeing employee!) as the Dreamliner is already flying with ANA commercially in Japan now.
Sometimes one has to be practical as rules are man made. Remember, Airbus applied for certification of its newest plane, the A380 before the regulation and did not have to comply with the rules.
Boeing's engineers have redesigned the fuel tanks and have weighed the worst-case lightning threat and demonstrated that there was sufficient margin to rule out sparking.
One source said that the level of detailed design, test and analysis in the 787's wing-tank lightning protection appears to be greater than has been conducted previously in aviation.
The FAA also claims that the less stringent anti-sparking rule is balanced by an important new safety feature of the 787: its fuel-tank inerting system. As the level of fuel inside the wing falls during flight, the system pumps inert (nonflammable) nitrogen gas into the space created. That hugely reduces the danger of flammable vapor.
When the original 2001 rule was written, the FAA stated that it would consider relaxing the ignition-source rules in the future if there was improvement in the technology to lower flammability — "such as full-time fuel-tank inerting."
My opinion is - I do not feel that this is symptomatic of the erosion of airline safety standards due to modern economic times. I believe everyone in the airline industry cares for safety and I do not think aircraft standards are any lower today. Boeing experts insist that the 787 will be safer in a lightning storm than any jet flying today.
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