Re: TWA 800

From: Robert Bradbury (
Date: Tue Jan 04 2000 - 06:44:42 MST

On Mon, 3 Jan 2000, Ian Goddard wrote:

> At 09:22 AM 01/03/2000 +0000, Peter James wrote:
> >
> >He said also that had there really been the remotest suspicion of a problem
> >causing the fuel tank to have exploded, every single 747 throughout the
> >world would have been grounded instantly until the problem was either
> >proven, and then rectified on every plane, or established to be unfounded.
> >This was not the case. Not one single 747 anywhere was grounded for checks.
> >Why not?
> IAN: They did check wires on many 747s under
> the pretext that frayed wires may have caused
> the fuel tank to explode. However, nobody at
> the NTSB has been able to explain how wires
> outside the tank could ignite vapors inside
> the tank. The NTSB simulated the alleged
> ignition by placing an igniter inside a
> mock-up tank, and even then, to get it to
> explode they had to add hydrogen and propane
> to the Jet A1 fuel! Clearly, the relationship
> of the NTSB's test to reality is about zero.
> See:
Without expressing an opinion one way or the other re: TWA 800, I will
simply comment on the argument regarding the "would have been grounded
instantly" statement.

Given the problems with the rudder controls on 737's and the thrust
reversers on 767's, I think it is safe to say that unless a problem
is clearly discovered and poses a very high risk to passengers the
NTSB/FAA *do not* ground planes. The fact that planes have to go
through a lengthy approval process and the fact that they by and
large do work most of the time means that you would have to meet
an extraordinary level of proof for faulting engineering to ground
an entire fleet. If you look at implementations of past "problem"
fixes, they occur fairly quietly over periods of weeks or months.

Bottom line is this -- if we value human lives at $1M each (which tends
to be roughly the current standard), then dropping a plane out of
the sky is going to cost relatively little compared to the cost
of grounding a significant fraction of the air fleet for any length
of time. So IMO, this part of the argument holds very little water.


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