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Air Transport Association Backs FAA On Call for New Aircraft Insulation

By Don Phillips
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON

The airline industry said Thursday it agrees with the Federal Aviation Administration that new burn tests on aircraft insulation indicate that most of the material must be replaced in an orderly process over several years.

Carol B. Hallett, president of the Air Transport Association, said the insulation is not an immediate safety issue and "we do not know of a single injury or fatality" ever caused by burning insulation. She said the FAA action does not stem from a defect but is "a better way of keeping our skies safe."

The effectiveness of most types of insulation-used throughout aircraft fuselages to muffle sound and protect passengers from heat and cold-has been questioned for at least two years by some aviation officials. Action did not come, however, until after the crash of Swissair Flight 111 on Sept. 2 near Halifax, Nova Scotia, which killed 229 people.

A cause for the crash has not been determined. But the Swissair McDonnell Douglas MD-11 jet was known to have some metalized Mylar insulation, which McDonnell Douglas Corp. and later Boeing Co. recommended be replaced because of possible flammability problems.

The FAA informed airlines and manufacturers Wednesday that new burn tests showed that not only metalized Mylar but also almost all other forms of aircraft insulation could catch fire when exposed to high heat. The agency recommended that all current insulation be replaced at heavy maintenance periods, and it said it would develop new tests and likely issue mandatory rules in about six months.

Officials of the ATA, which represents all major U.S. airlines, asked for a technical meeting with FAA officials Thursday morning to get more details. Afterward, they said the FAA analysis seems solid.

Hallett stressed, however, that no planes would be grounded and no passengers would be inconvenienced because of FAA assurances that the work could be done at regular maintenance intervals. Hallett said an estimated 4,724 aircraft represented by the ATA are affected, out of about 12,000 worldwide. ATA members operate 60 of the world's roughly 200 Lockheed L-1011 jets, the only aircraft with acceptable insulation.