For Immediate Release

Release No. APA 87-99
August 11, 1999
Contact: Alison Duquette
Phone: 202-267-8521

WASHINGTON, DC — To reduce the risk of the spread of fire aboard aircraft, FAA Administrator Jane F. Garvey today said the agency is ordering operators of 699 aircraft to replace insulation blankets covered with metalized Mylar within four years. The FAA is also strongly encouraging operators to accomplish the insulation replacement during the earliest practical maintenance check.

The announcement follows eight months of extensive testing in support of the development of a new test standard for aircraft insulation.

The FAA is going beyond the current, acceptable level of safety and is proposing an even higher standard for testing insulation on all new aircraft. The new test standard was developed by the FAA with input from world-renowned fire experts. The agency plans to issue a proposal for all new aircraft later this year.

While other insulation materials in the current U.S. fleet are safe, tests show that metalized Mylar falls far below the new test standard. The proposed Airworthiness Directives (ADs) would affect DC-10, MD-11, MD-80, MD-88, and MD-90 aircraft. They will require operators to remove metalized Mylar-covered insulation. Replacement materials must meet the FAA's new proposed flame propagation standard that is based on the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) standard for flammability. Materials such as polyimide, certain polyvinylfluorides and certain fluoropolymer composites have been shown to be capable of meeting the ASTM test.

"The FAA's track record shows that we don't hesitate to have airlines retrofit the fleet when there is a threat to passenger safety," said Garvey. "We've weighed the benefit of replacing insulation, reviewed the service history of these aircraft and have made the right decision based on scientific data."

Anytime an aircraft is taken apart, there is a possible risk of damaging aircraft wiring. Replacing aircraft insulation is complex and must be performed safely to avoid unintended consequences. Insulation is not easily accessible and replacement involves removal of overhead panels and floors. The work must be accomplished at the earliest maintenance check, but no later than four years. This allows for a safe and deliberative process designed to minimize the possibility of creating unintended safety problems.

Flammability tests were conducted at the FAA's William J. Hughes Technical Center, a premier aviation research, development, engineering, test and evaluation facility located in Atlantic City, N.J. Working with input from aviation experts around the world, the FAA replicated how different insulation materials behave in simulated fire situations. Using the new standard, FAA scientists measured a material's ability to prevent or contain the spread of fire. Metalized Mylar fell short of an acceptable safety level and far below the new standard. It ignites much more easily than other materials and can spread fire because its properties are much different. The other materials performed better than originally anticipated and meet the acceptable level of safety. While these materials may not meet the new, higher standard, they do not pose a threat to aviation safety.

The FAA continues to work closely with the international aviation community through the Joint Aviation Authorities in Europe and with the Canadian and Japanese airworthiness authorities on the new test standard for aircraft insulation.

Of the 1,230 airplanes in the worldwide fleet affected by the AD, approximately 699 airplanes are registered in the United States. U.S. operators include: American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Continental Airlines, Trans World Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Federal Express, Reno Air, Aeromexico and US Airways.

The estimated cost to U.S. operators is approximately $255 million, $380,000 to $880,000 per airplane.

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