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John Croft   |   Aviation Week & Space Technology, http://aviationweek.com/mro/air-cargo-industry-still-fighting-fuel-system-ad?NL=AW-05&Issue=AW-05_20160202_AW-05_878&sfvc4enews=42&cl=article_2

Major cargo airlines and the industry advocacy group Airlines for America (A4A) are fighting to derail an impending series of FAA airworthiness directives (AD), the first of which is set to be published in late March. That directive will mandate Boeing 757 freighter fuel system modifications to prevent potential explosions, and announcements for other aircraft models will follow.

The proposed 757 rule will require cargo airlines—within 6 years—to separate wires used by the 757’s fuel quantity indication system (FQIS) to measure the amount of fuel in the aircraft’s center fuel tank. The FAA wants the wires that run between the FQIS processor and the center fuel tank, as well as other wires that pass through a main fuel tank, to be separated by 2 in. to prevent a short circuit that could travel into the tank and cause a spark.

The NTSB determined that such a scenario—an external short circuit that propagated into a fuel tank through FQIS wires—is the most likely explanation for the downing of TWA Flight 800, a Boeing 747-100, in the Atlantic Ocean in 1996. The 757 wiring directive is the latest in a long list of responses to the crash: In addition to dozens of ADs aimed at safing fuel tank components for several aircraft types, the FAA in 2001 issued Special Federal Aviation Regulation (SFAR) 88, requiring airframers to reanalyze the design of fuel tank systems, and in 2008 the agency finalized a rule requiring passenger airliners to have fuel tank inerting systems by the end of 2017 to mitigate the threat. But all-cargo aircraft were exempt from the 2008 rule.

UPS, FedEx and Atlas Air met with the FAA in December to convince the agency to cancel an impending Boeing 757 freighter directive. Credit: UPS

A4A says the cargo carriers have already spent “tens of millions” of dollars over the past 20 years in fuel tank safety improvements, and that the new rule did not account for nearly $36 million in upgrades that the airlines spent for SFAR 88 and other post-TWA 800 changes, including 55 ADs and wiring maintenance program improvements. “There have been no incidents since [these changes] were implemented,” A4A said in a meeting with the FAA in December. “This provides direct evidence that FAA projections for additional incidents was overstated and that SFAR 88 changes have worked.” A4A also says the costs—which it estimates at $16 million for UPS alone if other Boeing models are eventually included—will make U.S. cargo operators less competitive in the global marketplace as no other countries are requiring the upgrades.