NTSB warns of commuter-plane flaw

7 fires have occurred in CRJ-200 aircraft


The National Transportation Safety Board issued an urgent warning yesterday that a popular commuter aircraft - used by USAirways, among other carriers - has a potentially "catastrophic" flaw in its power system that has led to a series of seven fires aboard the planes.

The board issued seven recommendations to the Federal Aviation Administration - four of them classified as "urgent" - for improvements to the Bombardier CRJ-200.

The NTSB said six of the seven fires, none of them fatal, occurred in the past six months. It urged the FAA to require Montreal-based Bombardier to make upgrades to protect against short circuits that could disable flight-control instruments.

"The problems identified in the board's letter must be corrected as soon as possible," NTSB acting Chairman Mark V. Rosenker said. "The potential consequences of these fires can be catastrophic."

FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said the agency is working with Canadian transportation authorities on a solution and expects to announce action soon.

Bert Cruickshank, spokesman for Bombardier, said the company is looking at ways to prevent the fires and has told airlines to implement maintenance procedures to make sure the cockpit displays work. "We've been involved and assisted and cooperated fully with NTSB, FAA and Transport Canada," he said.

The Bombardier CRJ series was introduced in 1992, and according to the company 1,300 are in service worldwide. The CRJ-200 is promoted on Bombardier's Web site as "the world's favourite 50-seat jet," with more than 1,000 in service. Aerospace America reported that the company announced plans to suspend production late last year because of slumping sales.

Among airlines using the aircraft is USAirways, which operates out of Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. A spokeswoman for the airline said it has 66 of the planes in service.

The NTSB said in four of the fires aboard the CRJ-200s, the crews temporarily lost the use of the Electronic Flight Information Systems -increasing pilots' workload during an emergency.

The board said the fires involved a surface material used on a switching device for the plane's electric power system. It urged the FAA to require Bombardier to develop a way to separate its power sources to prevent the simultaneous loss of all panel displays, to develop protections against short-circuit and to evaluate emergency procedures.


The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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