Biggest News In Boeing Fuel Tank Rule Fine Story: Expect Extensions

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FAA's proposed $13.57 million fine against Boeing for failing to provide 747 and 757 fuel tank inerting service instructions per the Fuel Tank Flammability Rule deadline is getting a lot of ink (and pixels) for the bucks involved. But the real news may very well be buried well below the dollars in FAA's announcement. Specifically, paragraphs eight and nine:

The Fuel Tank Flammability Rule requires airlines to retrofit half of its fleet by 2014, and complete the retrofit by 2017. An airline trade group has proposed an extension of those two dates because of the service instruction delay for certain Boeing aircraft.

The FAA expects that most, if not all, operators will meet both the 2014 and 2017 deadlines, even if they received service instructions later than anticipated. The FAA has advised the trade group that the agency is not considering any extensions to the 2017 deadline for completing the fleet retrofit.  However, the agency will consider extending the 2014 deadline if necessary, based on the specific circumstances for a particular operator.

The "trade group" is Airlines For America (A4A), which on March 26 sent FAA a letter urging the agency to consider a new rule that would extend the 50-percent and 100-percent compliance deadlines of December 26, 2014 and December 26, 2017, respectively. The reason: approval and development of flammability reduction means (FRM) kits is lagging far behind on five of the seven models affected by the rule. The 2008 final rule envisioned retrofits for affected models--the 737, 747, 757, 767, 777, A320, and A330--starting in the second half of 2011, but according to A4A, the only kits available at the time of its letter were for the Airbus aircraft. "There is simply not enough time to retrofit airplanes with the FRM kits by the rule's deadline," A4A argued.

In its response, dated Friday, FAA confirmed that it has approved design changes and service instructions for all affected models. And while the process has seen some delays, discussions with OEMs and operators have left the agency confident that both the interim and final deadlines will be met by--as it noted in the release--"most, if not all, operators." As such, the only extensions that FAA will consider will be to the interim deadline--and only then on a case-by-case basis.

So, the airlines lose out, then? Probably not. FAA has indicated it won't offer much resistance to requests for 2014 deadline extensions, effectively giving operators about five years to bring entire fleets into compliance. 

The biggest downside of FAA’s approach? Lots of paperwork for all.

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