Honorable Mark V. Rosenker
Chairman, National Transportation Safety Board
Remarks before the
Fuel Tank Integrity Rule Press Conference
July 16, 2008
Good morning. I am Mark Rosenker, Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board and welcome you to the NTSB Training Center for this important announcement.
Today we begin the process of closing out successfully one of the NTSB’s Most Wanted List recommendations in the area of aviation safety. That is to implement design changes to eliminate the vulnerability of flammable fuel/air vapors in transport category aircraft.
This is a bitter-sweet occasion. It reminds all of us of one of the worst aviation tragedies in our nation’s history, but it also emphasizes that we CAN and DO learn from accidents. It was July 17, 1996, 12 years ago tomorrow, that TWA flight 800, a 747 enroute from New York to Paris, exploded shortly after taking off from JFK Airport. 230 people lost their lives.
I would like to recognize the family members who are here and elsewhere watching this press conference, and again express the NTSB’s condolences to all those who lost loved ones in the crash of TWA 800.
We are doing this press conference at the NTSB Training Center because we sincerely believe that it makes a powerful statement about the mission of the NTSB and our goals.
I hope you saw on your way in today the inscription on the window of the front wall of our Training Center, because that is what today is all about. It says this training center is: “Dedicated to the victims of transportation accidents and their families. From tragedy we draw knowledge to improve the safety of us all.”
TWA 800 was one of the most comprehensive and thorough investigations in the Safety Board’s history. In its final report, the Safety Board determined that the probable cause of the crash was an explosion of the center wing fuel tank, resulting from ignition of the flammable fuel/air mixture in the tank. Contributing to the accident were the heat sources located beneath the center wing tank with no means to reduce the heat transferred into the center wing tank.
We continue to use the reconstruction of TWA 800 here at this facility to train accident investigators. This accident investigation taught us that a fuel tank design and certification philosophy that relies solely on the elimination of all ignition sources, while accepting the existence of fuel tank flammability, was fundamentally flawed. Our investigative experiences demonstrated that all possible ignition sources cannot be predicted and reliably eliminated.
During the course of the investigation, we recommended that the FAA require design or operational changes that will preclude the operation of large airplanes with explosive fuel-air mixtures in the fuel tank, and we called on the FAA to develop new designs, such as nitrogen-inerting systems to prevent fuel-air explosions. This issue has been on our Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements for more than a decade.
Despite resistance from many in the aviation industry, the FAA and its dedicated public servants, like Acting Administrator Bobby Sturgell, and Director of Aircraft Certifcation, John Hickey, persevered to develop an effective and feasible inerting system.
Today we are raising the bar on aviation safety.
In just a moment Department of Transportation Secretary Mary Peters will tell us about the steps the DOT is taking to avoid future accidents like this.
The Safety Board congratulates the Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration on this important safety achievement.
We believe that this will save lives
It is now my privilege to introduce the Secretary of Transportation, the Honorable Mary E. Peters