TWA 20 Years Later: Lessons learned from tragedy

It took 12 years after TWA Flight 800 crashed before government regulators finally began ordering changes to prevent future air disasters.

It took 12 years after TWA Flight 800 crashed before government regulators finally began ordering changes to prevent future air disasters. (7/14/16)

MORICHES INLET - It took 12 years after TWA Flight 800 crashed before government regulators finally began ordering changes to prevent future air disasters.

According to the official accident report, TWA Flight 800 tumbled down in a fireball off the coast of Moriches after something ignited fuel vapors in the jumbo jet's center wing tank, killing all 230 on board.

Changes that would prevent future fuel tank explosions include more inspections for aging aircraft like the Boeing 747, improved wiring to prevent sparks from igniting fumes and a requirement to inject nitrogen gas into fuel tanks to reduce the risk of explosive vapors.

The National Transportation Safety Board recommended 15 changes to make commercial flying in the cockpit safer, but many pilots News 12 spoke with say they are concerned that it took so long for the government to implement.

Jim Record is a retired Northwest Airlines captain. He says it's unfortunate that the government waited for years to take action after the Flight 800 tragedy.

"The FAA works that way," says Record. "Sometimes we think that they should be done sooner than later."

Not all the safety rules have been completely acted upon. Airline companies balked at the cost of the fuel tank nitrogen system, estimated at $200,000 per plane. Less expensive technology was installed in half of the country's 6,000 airliners.

The rest won't be protected by the order until the end of 2017.

Michael Canders, a retired Air Force pilot and now aviation professor at Farmingdale State College, says pressure from airlines can affect safety rule changes.

"They do a cost-benefits analysis and they'll probably get some natural pushback from some of the operators because of the costs to implement these things, and so it does become some of a political football," says Canders.

John Hickey, of the FAA, insists the agency's safety rules were delayed because investigators never officially identified the source of the spark that triggered the explosion. He says flying is safer than ever before.  

"I am very pleased to say that we have not had an event since then and the entire United States fleet will be equipped with this  [fuel injecting system]  by December 2017."

 

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