New Steps Urged To Detect, Fight Fires in Jetliners

New Steps Urged To Detect, Fight Fires in Jetliners

Improved ways of detecting and fighting fires in jetliner cabins has been urged by the National Transportation Safety Board in proposals made to the Federal Aviation Administration.

The NTSB called for full-facepiece breathing apparatus for crew members to help them fight cabin fires and recommended better fire detection systems for lavatories, where a number of aircraft fires have occurred during flight. Improved fire resistance for lavatories and other enclosed spaces also was recommended.

The board’s action was spurred by the cabin fire last July that caused a Varig Boeing 707 to crash in flames in a field outside Paris while trying to make Orly Airport. Only 10 of the 136 persons aboard the plane survived. The NTSB noted that there have been a number of lavatory fires aboard airliners, although none resulted in a crash.

The board’s report stressed the fact that the fatal fire aboard the Brazilian plane “was fed by the interior’s materials” and fuel was not involved.

The NTSB report to the FAA stated, “The board is also aware of and is seriously concerned over the number of inflight fires that have occurred during the past several years as a result of ignition of flammable materials in lavatories of large jet transport aircraft.”

Limited examination of jetliner lavatories, the board explained, has shown that waste containers were not fireproof and cigarette butts were often found in them. Furthermore, lavatory ventilation systems would “exhaust any odors or smoke in the case of lavatory fires, thus precluding detection in the cabin area until a serious fire is in progress.”

Although the NTSB stressed the lavatory fire problem, its recommendations to the FAA proposed improved fire protection throughout jetliner cabins. The NTSB evaluates safety in all means of transportation, while the FAA is specifically charged with the responsibility for safety aboard airliners.

The B-707 lavatories, a Boeing spokesman reported, contain vinyls and a variety of other plastics, fiber glass, aluminum and stainless steel. The other parts of the plane’s cabin contain much the same materials.

Although the French inquiry into the Varig crash has not determined the fire cause, the NTSB representatives in the inquiry reported that “the smoke origin was in the area of the aft lavatories.”

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