New rules sought for fire safety on airliners Proposal would require sensors, extinguishers in cargo compartments


WASHINGTON -- The Transportation Department has decided to seek new rules requiring fire safety equipment in all airline cargo compartments, officials said Thursday night.

Hearings are to begin Monday into the crash of a ValuJet DC-9 that investigators believe could have been prevented by such equipment.

The National Transportation Safety Board had long sought such equipment, including heat sensors, smoke detectors and fire extinguishing systems, but had been turned down by the Federal Aviation Administration, which considered the benefit too low to justify the cost.

Top regulators from the Transportation Department are scheduled to be cross-examined on that subject in safety board hearings in Miami into the crash, which occurred in the Everglades on May 11 and killed all 110 people on board.

The crash was apparently caused by a fire; both the heat and the oxygen for the fire were supplied by aircraft parts from another plane that were being shipped as cargo.

The parts, called oxygen generators, are used to make oxygen for emergency masks through a chemical reaction that also creates much heat.

Fire safety has been an issue for years. Pilots and the safety board have urged stronger measures, but the FAA and the airlines have resisted that idea.

The FAA said it would propose fire detection and suppression systems for 2,800 older commercial aircraft that do not have them now.

Those systems are common today on wide-body jets but less common on narrow-bodies, like the DC-9.

Cargo compartments, like the one on the DC-9 that crashed, are airtight and heavily insulated. They were designed with the idea that in the unlikely event of a fire, the combustion would use up all the oxygen before burning through. But in the ValuJet case, the oxygen generators apparently provided more oxygen.

The FAA also said it would move to ban certain materials that burn easily from cargo.

Pub Date: 11/16/96

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