Air Safety Fixes Delayed in Bush's Last Months - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

NC5 Investigates: Unsafe to Fly?

Air Safety Fixes Delayed in Bush's Last Months

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A NewsChannel 5 investigation exposed a problem with flammable materials on hundreds of airliners that you and I fly.

But if you think the government has fixed the problem, think again.

As our chief investigative reporter Phil Williams discovered, that won't happen for a long time.

At the center of the questions: video obtained by NewsChannel 5 Investigates from the government's own files.

It shows how easily insulation found on hundreds of airliners could literally go up in flames. And other video shows how those flames could spread throughout the attic of an airliner.

"They know about a problem but they resist acting," safety advocate Mary Schiavo told Williams last year. Schiavo once served as the inspector general for the U.S. Department of Transportation, which includes the Federal Aviation Administration.

"Unfortunately, they resist acting because, well, to put it into their words, they don't have a body count."

The insulation -- known as AN-26 -- lines hundreds of older Boeing aircraft still flying today.

The problem, according to the FAA's own researchers, is that:

"a small ignition source, such as an electrical arc, could easily ignite this material and the fire would propagate on the material until the material was consumed.  Flames from the AN-26 were capable of igniting other aircraft materials and, in a cascading fashion, cause a catastrophic fire."

But an order, issued in the closing weeks of the Bush administration, effectively takes the airlines off the hook, giving them years to fix the problem.

In fact, in 2005, the FAA declared it to be an "unsafe condition" and called for the airlines to replace the flammable insulation within six years.

Then, the airline industry stalled the rule for three years.

Finally, late last year, the Bush administration issued its final rule, giving the airlines another eight years to fix the problem.

"These aircraft that have this are getting older, and I think the airlines are hoping that they get parked before the insulation has to be replaced," said former airliner pilot Don McCune.

Fire in another kind of flammable insulation brought down a Swissair plane more than 10 years ago -- 229 people died in that crash.

The airlines say they don't think the threats from AN-26 are that serious.

So, for the next eight years, passengers just have to hope that they're right.  

Back to NC5 Investigates: Unsafe to Fly
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Which Aircraft Have Kapton Wiring, and What's the Problem?
Which Aircraft Have PVC Wiring, and What's the Problem?
How Safe is Airline Wiring? Statements from the FAA
How We Did the Investigation, and How You Can Investigate Your Airline?

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