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FAA May Finally Address Dangerous Cockpit Fires

Posted by Jane Akre
Wednesday, June 30, 2010 2:07 PM EST
Category: On The Road
Tags: Airline Industry, FAA, NTSB, Boeing, Emergency Landing

Forced Emergency Landings


IMAGE SOURCE: Wikimedia Commons Web site/ Boeing 757 Iberia Airlines windshield

For years, pilots and cockpit crews have watch as window heaters catch fire.

Windshields have shattered into spidery cracks and flight attendants held hands and prayed as the crew used fire extinguishers put out the flames. Pilots have made dozens of emergency landings.

So far none of the incidents has been deadly, but why have they been allowed to continue?

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has known about the problem for years aboard some Boeing aircraft. The problem has been in some cases traced to a loose screw, reports the Associated Press.

The National Transportation Safety Board has urged the FAA to order the problem fixed in major airlines, but the FAA has yet to do so as it promised back in 2004.

Things almost changed in March 2008.

That’s when heavy smoke filled a cockpit of an American Airlines flight from Puerto Rico to Philadelphia. Terrified passengers were told they might face a rough landing in the water as the plane was diverted to Palm Beach, Florida.

After that emergency landing, the FAA proposed a safety fix, but the proposal has not been finalized and ordered. And as recently as May, a United Airlines 757 made an emergency landing at Washington Dulles after a cockpit fire. Pilots used two fire extinguishers after the initial fire was squelched then reignited.

Boeing admits there have been at least 29 incidents around the world involving problems with cockpit window heaters in the 747, 757, 767, and 777 aircraft since 2002. Fourteen emergency landing are attributed to the faulty window heaters in 757 and 777 models, and eleven emergency landings in 737s have occurred since 2002.

And these are only the incidents where flames were seen, not cracked windows or electrical arcing.

For their part, the major airlines say they are always replacing windows and conducting inspections. The FAA’s delay in ordering a fix may be due to objections from the airline industry because disassembling a windshield is complex.

Finally, the FAA plans to issue a final order in July. Airlines will have to replace damaged windows and check and replace the loose screw. #

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