The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has issued a preliminary civil penalty of $13.6 million against Boeing for failing to meet a deadline to submit service instructions that would enable airlines to further reduce the
risk of fuel tank explosions on more than 380 Boeing jetliners.
"We take this matter very seriously,” Acting FAA Administrator
Michael Huerta said in a statement. “We have issued hundreds of directives to eliminate fuel
ignition sources over the past 16 years, and this step will add another layer
Following the TWA 800 accident in July 1996, the FAA has issued 283
directives to prevent the ignition of vapors in and around commercial aircraft
fuel tanks. In 2008, the FAA published the Fuel Tank Flammability
Rule, which required manufacturers to develop design changes and service
instructions for installing systems to further reduce fuel tank flammability.
The rule gave the two companies that designed the affected aircraft until Dec.
27, 2010, to submit service instructions for FAA approval. The FAA alleges that
in January 2010, Boeing committed to provide the instructions by the deadline.
The instructions were to explain how to install systems that would replace the
oxygen in airplane fuel tanks with non-flammable nitrogen gas, reducing the
risk of explosion.
Boeing missed the deadline for submitting service instructions for the
747s by 301 days, delivering them to the FAA on Oct. 24, 2011. The company was
406 days late in submitting service instructions for the 757s. In total, 383
U.S.-registered Boeing aircraft are affected by these delays.
Airbus, the other manufacturer required to develop instructions for
retrofitting certain models of its airplanes, met the Dec. 27, 2010 deadline.
The Fuel Tank Flammability Rule requires airlines to retrofit half of their fleets by 2014, and complete the retrofit by 2017. An airline trade group has
proposed an extension of those two dates because of the service instruction
delay for certain Boeing aircraft.
The FAA expects that most, if not all, operators will meet both the 2014
and 2017 deadlines, even if they received service instructions later than
anticipated. The FAA has advised the trade group that the agency is not
considering any extensions to the 2017 deadline for completing the fleet
retrofit. However, the agency will consider extending the 2014 deadline if
necessary, based on the specific circumstances for a particular operator.
Boeing has 30 days from the receipt of the FAA's enforcement letter to
respond to the agency.
- Eric Kulisch