Segment 2 Of 2 Previous Hearing Segment(1)
SPEAKERS CONTENTS INSERTS
Page 9 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 AIRCRAFT ELECTRICAL SYSTEM SAFETY
Thursday, October 5, 2000
House of Representatives, Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations, and Emergency Management, Washington, D.C.
The subcommittee met, pursuant to call, at 2:04 p.m. in room 2167, Rayburn House Office Building, Hon. Tillie Fowler [chairman of the subcommittee] presiding.
Mrs. FOWLER. The subcommittee would please come to order.
Over a year ago, this subcommittee began examining the safety of airline electrical systems. At our first hearing on this subject, we determined that electrical problems were a leading cause of fatal aircraft accidents.
Since that hearing, additional information has added greater weight to concerns regarding electrical systems. We now know that faulty wiring was the most likely cause of the TWA-800 accident that claimed the lives of 230 people.
Based on the most recently available evidence, it is also widely believed that faulty wiring was behind the crash of Swissair Flight 111, which claimed the lives of 229 people in September of 1998.
A drumbeat of more frequent, but less tragic incidents just keeps going. Less than two months ago, an AirTran flight out of Greensboro, North Carolina, was forced to return to the airport, minutes after take-off, when crew members reported smoke in the cockpit.
The pilots of this aircraft could not even see their instrument panel, the smoke was so thick. The preliminary indications are that this incident was wiring related.
Just this past week, a Continental Airlines jet was forced to make an emergency landing after a fire was reported in the cockpit. A screw that was installed in a bulkhead and had pierced a wire bundle caused this fire. The interesting thing is, ironically, the screw was holding the aircraft's airworthiness certificate in place.
Page 10 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 So at our last hearing, we asked every witness, including representatives from the NTSB, the FAA, technical experts, and industry officials, whether aging wiring was a problem that needed to be addressed. The answer from every single witness was yes.
At our last hearing, we also identified a number of technologies that could greatly reduce the risk of problems with aircraft electrical systems. Some of these technologies, like spectrometry, that can scan and find potential faults in wires, are still in the early design and testing phase. But others, such as advanced composite wiring codings, are readily available and already used on many aircraft or in other applications.
The purpose of this hearing is to see how far we have come in a year in applying these technologies to a problem we know needs to be solved.
Today, we will hear from the same groups that were here a year ago about the progress they have made. The question is, are we aggressively pursuing actions that we know will make the flying public safer?
We will hear from the Department of Transportation Inspector General's Office. The IG, at the request of this subcommittee, conducted an audit of the FAA's efforts in finding solutions to aircraft electrical problems. I look forward to hearing the results of that audit.
We know that the issue of aircraft wiring is a problem, and that it needs to be addressed. This is an issue with no margin for error, and as the number of people who fly every year increases, we must do everything that we can to make air travel as safe as possible.
It is very important that Congress stay on top of this issue. This is so because while not all Americans have flown in commercial aircraft, with over 600 million domestic passengers this year and rising, every American knows someone who will.
So we also must stay on top of this issue, because this is one of those rare cases in Washington where we have not only recognized a problem, but also have identifiable solutions that we know will help protect the flying public.
Page 11 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 So I would now like to recognize Mr. Traficant for his opening statement.
Mr. TRAFICANT. Well, I would like to start out by commending you, Madam Chairwoman, knowing that you will not be with Congress next year. You have retired from the battleground here in D.C., from the Potomac, but you have a tremendous record of achievement.
I would like to take a few minutes to commend you on those achievements, and to report to those in attendance the significance of the Subcommittee on Investigation and Oversight, which was a new subcommittee developed by the Republican majority.
Specifically, this subcommittee has held 17 significant hearings on salient points of interest of oversight, which I believe is one of the most important things Congress should do, and many times, Congress does very little of it. We have examined over $13 billion in questionable Government spending, with remedies through respective actions involving those agencies involved, to mitigate that questionable wasteful spending.
This subcommittee, under the leadership of Chairwoman Fowler, has released 26 General Accounting Office agency and subcommittee reports of significant value to this oversight process.
In addition, under your leadership, Madam Chairwoman, this subcommittee led the effort to end sponsor two significant bills that have passed the House, and are now being regurgitated in the other body: the first being H.R. 707, the Disaster Mitigation Amendments of 2000, relative to the FEMA process and reauthorization; and H.R. 4210, the Terrorism Preparedness Bill.
So I have taken a little bit of time from my statement to commend you and the significant, tremendous contribution that you have made to the Congress of the United States.
I would like to focus briefly, if I could with my statement, on this particular hearing. Chairman Duncan of the Aviation Subcommittee, of which I am a member, asked me after the controversy surrounding TWA-800, as an old sheriff, to look at the data, the records, the evidence, the products of much scrutiny.
Page 12 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 My staff and I did, after a lengthy period of time. It is not popular in Government to support the findings of a Government agency, but I thought the National Transportation Safety Board did an excellent job.
I think contrary to many conspiracy theories, they focused on the reality of that great tragedy: that center fuel tank, with very little fuel, and the vapors fumes caused that combustion, which led to that demise and great tragedy, due to electrical wiring and harness problems. That brings us here today.
Nearly everybody knows, after the many years of wear and tear, the chafing, and sometimes the placement of new equipment on or about or near existing wire harnesses causes that damages, takes away that insulation, and lends itself to those types of disasters.
So what we are about here today is, we think the Federal Aviation Administration has done a fine job. We think the respective entities that are here today have done a fine job.
But what we want to know is, since we have this problem, the technologies that are necessary to help us in advance to mitigate potential disasters, are we utilizing them, are we really focusing on them; or is the industry, through their competitive process, sometimes cannibalizing each other? Are they taking those shortcuts that would, in fact, lend to the propensity of further types of disasters?
So with that, Madam Chairwoman, I think the aging transport systems' Rulemaking Advisory Committee was an excellent idea. I am anxious to hear the reports of the Inspector General and of those respective witnesses today.
But before I close again, I think you have done a marvelous job. I appreciate serving with you. I ask that my entire statement be included in the record.
Mrs. FOWLER. It is so done.
I want to thank the Ranking Member and my good friend, Mr. Traficant, because it has really been a pleasure for me to work with you this past Congress. We have been a good team.
Page 13 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 We have accomplished a lot, and I think it has shown the need for every committee to have an Oversight Subcommittee. That is the only way you are going to really have the time to have a subcommittee really devoted to oversight, and that is critical in this big Government that we have.
So I want to thank you for all that you have done, and for your able staffer, Trinita Brown over here, who has just done a great job of working with us. So thank you very much. I appreciate it.
We will now call the first witnesses for the first panel. We will first hear from Kent Hollinger, Chairman of the Aging Transport Systems Rulemaking Advisory Commission, commonly referred to as ATSRAC.
We will then hear from Richard Healing, Director of the Navy's Office of Safety and Survivability, and Chairman and founder of the Aircraft Wiring and Inert Gas Generator Working Group, commonly referred to as AWIGG. I would like to welcome you both, and welcome Mr. Healing back as someone who has previously testified on this issue.
As you know, it is the policy of the subcommittee to swear in all of its witnesses. So if you would please rise and raise your right hands.
Mrs. FOWLER. Thank you. If you could please be seated. I would ask that you limit your statements to five minutes. Without objection, your written testimony will be made a part of the record.
We will begin with Mr. Hollinger.
TESTIMONY OF KENT V. HOLLINGER, CHAIR, AGING TRANSPORT SYSTEMS RULEMAKING ADVISORY COMMITTEE (ATSRAC); AND RICHARD HEALING, CHAIRMAN, AIRCRAFT WIRING AND INERT GAS GENERATOR WORKING GROUP (AWIGG), AND DIRECTOR, NAVY SAFETY AND SURVIVABILITY, OFFICE OF THE ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF THE NAVY
Page 14 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2
Mr. HOLLINGER. Good afternoon, Madam Chair and members of the subcommittee.
I first became involved in the aging systems issue in March, 1998, while employed as Chief Engineer at Northwest Airlines. A meeting was held at the end of that month to brief the airlines on the results of the aged aircraft inspections, which had been accomplished by Boeing and FAA inspectors.
In June, industry and FAA held a meeting to develop short term actions. It was agreed at that time to form an Aging Systems Task Force, or ASTF. Aircraft model-specific task force working groups were formed to develop detailed inspection plans for each fleet type.
On October 1st, 1998, the FAA Administrator announced a new plan to enhance the safety of aging aircraft systems. An advisory committee, which began ATSRAC, was announced to oversee much of this work, and I was named as Chair.
Meanwhile, the ASTF was continuing upon its mission. The group met in November, 1998, to review the progress of its working groups. By that time, detailed inspection instructions had already been developed for each aircraft model, and both a 727 and 747 had already been inspected.
At the first ATSRAC meeting in January, 1999, the committee voted to form working groups to perform the detailed work on its taskings. Due to the significant amount of progress already made by the ASTF, it was decided by ATSRAC to utilize the ASTF as its working group number 1, and to expand the membership to include several ATSRAC members.
Three other working groups were established to accomplish the remaining ATSRAC tasks, and they will present their recommendations to ATSRAC at our October, 2000 meeting.
Since the ASTF has issued a final report dated August 1st, 2000, which had been approved by ATSRAC, I will limit my remaining testimony at this time to the efforts contained in that report.
Page 15 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 The first ASTF task was to survey the condition of the wiring systems of older in-service airplanes. At ATSRAC direction, ASTF targeted airplanes which were greater than 20 years old.
After inspecting 81 aircraft, the findings consisted of 3,215 non-routine items. The definitions which follow were used to categorize the findings.
Immediate fleet-wide safety of flight concern is a discrepancy or safety of flight concerning requiring immediate fleet action, impending critical failure seen in the sample. Items found in this category were zero.
A potential hazard or a frequency occurring in significant item is a defect which may require design changes or notification for enhanced inspection, based on potential hazard or frequency of occurrence at a specific location. Items found in this category were 182.
Defects noted was the third category, which is a minor discrepancy, not requiring any fleet action. Items found were 3,033.
None of the 3,215 were found to be immediate fleet-wide safety of flight concerns, while the 182 items were deemed significant enough to warrant additional evaluation.
The OEMs, together with the model-specific working groups, conducted detailed reviews of the significant items found during the survey.
In the near future, the OEMs will release written service communications to emphasize the need to accomplish previously published modifications and inspections. They will also highlight preventive maintenance practices, which will ensure the integrity of wiring systems. Design changes are also being considered.
The second ASTF task was to review existing service data, such as service bulletins, all operator telexs, fleet information notices, and other fleet history information, related to airplane wiring.
Page 16 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 The intent of this task was to apply current knowledge of wiring concerns and practices to existing documents, and assess the need for additional emphasis on incorporating.
Of the thousands of airplane modifications and reports from the field identified by the computer, using its search capability, the OEMs and ASTF working groups agreed that 67 require additional emphasis of some type.
Of those 67, 22 already have been or will be upgraded to alert status. The remaining 45 documents are undergoing detailed review, prior to assessing the need for and method of emphasizing fleet incorporation.
The third ASTF task paralleled an FAA initiative started in 1989. The eight ASTF working groups were requested to review airworthiness directives that incorporated repetitive inspections. They would then determine whether a modification that would terminate the repetitive inspections was available, and would provide an effective end to the inspection. This study was not restricted to wiring-related ADs. It included all aircraft system ADs.
The working groups found 79 repetitive ADs related to systems. To identify those ADs where a terminating action should be mandated, the working groups developed a standard process to review, evaluate, and make a decision concerning each AD.
Ultimately, eight ADs were recommended for mandatory incorporation of a terminating action. Most were related to mechanical flight control and landing gear systems.
It should be noted that ASTF performed non-intrusive inspections, meaning they did not destroy or dissemble any electrical systems during their inspections. ATSRAC realizes there may be hidden problems in electrical systems which would not be detected, even by detailed inspections of specific areas.
Therefore, ATSRAC has initiated a separate intrusive inspection study, directed by Dr. Chris Smith of the FAA, to determine the state of aging electrical systems which are hidden from sight, such as wires inside conduits. The results of this investigation will be presented to ATSRAC at our October meeting.
Page 17 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 The Aging Systems Task Force has made a significant contribution to the understanding of aging wiring issues. It should also be recognized that all of its work was performed solely on a voluntary basis, without compensation.
Mrs. FOWLER. Thank you, Mr. Hollinger.
Mr. Healing, you may proceed. Thank you.
Mr. HEALING. Madam Chairman, Congressman Traficant, thank you for your continuing strong interest in the issue of non-structural aircraft systems, particularly electrical and electronic systems, and thank you again for asking me to testify today, representing AWIGG and the Navy.
AWIGG has grown to more than 350 members in the past year, and continues to share vital information that can help us all improve safety across the aviation community: military, commercial, manufacturers, operators, regulators, maintainers, and yes, even those of us who are primarily passengers.
I am very pleased to report significant progress and, in fact, surprisingly responsive achievements, considering the multitude of participants who had to find ways to work together, accommodating the purposeful and careful attention to detail required of all aviation activities.
Today, non-structural systems and, in particular, wiring, receive much more attention than was apparent only two or three years ago.
While AWIGG's history traces directly back to July 17th of 1996, the date of the TWA-800 tragedy, AWIGG's quarterly meetings and our primary achievements in sharing of critical information on existing and emerging technologies to address electrical wiring issues have occurred in just the last two years, beginning immediately after the September 2nd, 1998 Swissair Flight 111 tragedy.
Page 18 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 Of interest, the primary suspected causes in both the TWA and Swissair tragedies were electrical in nature, and most likely related to wiring.
But the ages of the mishap aircraft were significantly different; the TWA aircraft being only 25 years old, and the Swissair aircraft being only seven years old, suggesting that degradation of electrical systems or sub-systems should not always be correlated with chronological age.
The Navy reviewed more than half of its 4,000-plus aircraft more than 15 years old, and nearly 1,000 aircraft more than 25 years old. It has been putting increasing emphasis on aging issues and, in particular, wiring.
The average aircraft age in the Navy and Marine Corps. will continue to increase for the next 15 years, according to current projections, further emphasizing the need to carefully manage our efforts related to aging, based on both chronological age and usage or exposure.
Because of military-unique operational requirements, our experiences may equate to accelerated aging of systems and subsystems that are also used in commercial and civil aviation.
Research performed at Navy and Air Force laboratories has often proven to be useful in all aviation communities around the world. Sharing all of our findings is definitely a two-way street. The military can learn as much from the commercial sector as they can from us.
Sharing and working together, we can only enhance the ultimate results. This is the underlying theme and purpose of AWIGG and, thus far, it appears to be succeeding.
Wiring, once assumed to last the life of the aircraft, has proven to be a particularly challenging element, especially now that aircraft are being retained in service well beyond their original service life.
Based on several AWIGG briefings and field visits, it is apparent that methods of inspecting wiring for defects and degradation need to be improved.
Page 19 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 There is factual evidence to prove that visual inspection alone cannot sufficiently ensure knowledge of an aircraft wiring system's health.
In view of increased awareness of this, it is encouraging to see real progress being made towards better inspection equipment and methodologies; and, importantly, toward improved training of all who may come in contact with an aircraft's wiring system.
There are promising and practical developments in the area of smart wiring that should, in as few as five years, produce the capability to monitor electrical systems health on a full-time basis. Navy, Air Force, FAA, and others are all working toward that level of achievement.
One particularly significant achievement this year is an intervention that will, in the very near term, upgrade performance of aircraft circuit breakers to the point of detecting arc faults that cannot be detected with currently-used technology. Navy and FAA, working closely together with two manufacturers, have demonstrated this capability in prototype just last week at the AWIGG meeting.
Aircraft manufacturers are also pursuing arc fault circuit breaker technology independently with reported similar achievements to date. The competitive aspects of these efforts are driving progress toward earlier implementation of the new AFCB technology for the commercial fleet. Due to funding constraints, the military solution AFCB will be delayed for about three years. Ultimately, AFCB technology will benefit us all.
I mentioned training, and I want to be certain that this is fully understood as one area where everybody agrees, and also an area that should involve little or no delay in implementation, and minor costs in comparison to the benefits.
In its wrap-up Sunshine Hearing on TWA 800, NTSB pointed out the need for improved training of all personnel, as one practical method of improving the likelihood of discovering and properly identifying degraded electrical systems and wiring.
Page 20 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 There are also improvements in the area of wire insulation, new materials and new combinations of existing materials into composites, which offer better resistance of the threats from environmental factors like heat and humidity, exposure to chemicals, including water, foreign material damage, chafing, and the like. There is an increased focus in the manufacturing community, based on increased awareness of the threats and facilitated by technological improvements, created by the insulation manufacturers.
Change, nonetheless, takes a long time to achieve full fruition in this extremely critical area of aviation. It is incumbent on all involved to ensure that the cure never turns out to be worse than the ailment.
Along with improved insulation materials and combinations, increased scrutiny of current installation practices, and some practical experience and new design concepts like ribonnized organized wiring, used in the V-22, are enhancing survivability and safety performance.
On the other end of AWIGG, we successfully demonstrated methods of suppressing or extinguishing in-flight fires in May of this year. In combination with extraordinary support from industry partners, the Navy tested three different methods of controlling in-flight fires in a series of tests conducted on a recently retired Boeing 737, at a recycling facility in Greenwood, Mississippi.
About 75 percent of the costs of these tests were borne by our industry partners, without whom we would not have been able to prove that fine water mist and aerosol extinguishing capability could control a significant Class A or Class C in-flight fire in just seconds. The reports are available for the record, if desired.
My personal recommendations are included in my written testimony. I would be pleased to answer any questions that you may have.
Mrs. FOWLER. Thank you, Mr. Healing. I appreciate your testimony and all the work you have been giving us in working with us on this. I just have a few questions, and then I will turn it over to Mr. Traficant.
Page 21 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 Mr. Hollinger, approximately what percentage of all the wiring in the aircraft was examined in your non-intrusive inspection?
Mr. HOLLINGER. The amount of wiring in an aircraft varies greatly by the size of the airplane. The estimates have gone anywhere from about 70 miles for a small narrow body, up to 170 for a 747.
What we did is, we targeted specific areas; areas of high environmental stress, of heat, of maintenance activity, areas that we deemed to be critical areas, and targeted those areas. So, roughly, they probably accounted for about 20 percent of the wires. But we felt that those were the critical 20 percent where, most likely, possible problems could occur.
Mrs. FOWLER. So these aircraft had the non-intrusive inspections, and roughly about 20 percent of the wiring in each aircraft was inspected?
Mr. HOLLINGER. Yes.
Mrs. FOWLER. And then you do not note in your report, when you did find damage, what kinds of wire were damaged. Is that because you did not collect that information, that when you were examining this wiring, and you found damaged wiring, and you noted that it was damaged, but you did not note, I gather, what kinds of wire were damaged; is that correct?
Mr. HOLLINGER. On the significant items, the 182, it was attempted to record that wire type, whenever possible. It was not, in all cases. It can be very hard to determine wire type on an in-service aircraft.
When there is a bundle of wires, it is not always marked on the outside. It is hard to determine what exactly is in the middle of the bundle, because these were in-service aircraft, and we did not want to cause more damage to the aircraft by doing our investigations than we needed to. So we did not actually disassemble the wire bundles to try to do further investigations on them.
Page 22 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 Mrs. FOWLER. So you did not think it was really important to determine what kind of wiring these were, when you found damage?
Mr. HOLLINGER. Whenever possible, it was recorded. What we are relying on is our intrusive surveys or intrusive investigation to really go there.
That whole investigation was not set up by aircraft model type like our visual survey was. But whole investigation was set up by wire type, where they actually went in and took wires, dependant on type, rather than just the aircraft model that it came from.
Mrs. FOWLER. So, really, the non-intrusive inspection, while it gave us some information, really, until we get the results from the intrusive inspection, we are not going to really truly know what types of wiring and in what areas, and what the true problems are going to be uncovered.
I mean, this was just sort of more of a surface examination that gave you some information, but the report you should be getting later this month will give you much more?
Mr. HOLLINGER. Yes, we are really relying on the intrusive work. The non-intrusive was to let us know whether there was an immediate problem out there that needed immediate attention; whether there was a reoccurring problem that was prevalent throughout the fleet, that needed an immediate action for prevention.
Mrs. FOWLER. Did you find that there were?
Mr. HOLLINGER. No, it was zero in that category.
Mrs. FOWLER. Okay, I want to welcome our Ranking Member of the full committee, Mr. Oberstar, who has been a wonderful friend of mine on this committee, and has been such a good advisor and mentor as we have gone through this process.
I will interrupt my questions now to see, Mr. Oberstar, would you like to have any opening statement you would like to make at this time?
Mr. OBERSTAR. Thank you very much, Madam Chair. I greatly appreciate the work that you and Ranking Member Traficant have invested in putting together this hearing, and in continuing the inquiry into this extremely important subject.
Page 23 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 This is an issue of long standing; one that I addressed many years ago when I chaired the Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee. It is one that we continued to review on the Aviation Subcommittee.
I think it is important to highlight the progress that has been made in developing new materials to give greater protection to wiring, to prevent arcing, to prevent the fraying of cables in the aircraft interior, to address the matter of bundling of wiring in the stringers that traverse the hull of the aircraft, and to prevent chafing that causes minute breaks in the insulation and resulting arcing.
Those are very, very fine details that unchecked, uncorrected result in very, very big tragedies. This is among the most important work that we do on this committee. I congratulate you for pursing it.
Mrs. FOWLER. Thank you, Mr. Oberstar. I appreciate your being with us today. As you said, you really started out this line of investigation back several years ago, when you did chair this subcommittee. As I said, you have been a good advisor and mentor to us, as we have continued on our way during this Congress, thank you. We are glad to have you with us.
Mr. Healing, I wanted to just ask you a couple of question, too. I guess, though, until you get the October report, we really are not going to know, because if you do not know the type of wires that were damaged, then that is going to affect the impact of the inspection report, correct? I mean, you have got to know what wires are damaged and why they are damaged, in order to know.
Mr. HEALING. I think Mr. Hollinger was addressing that. You are talking about the ATSRAC and the final report from the intrusive inspections?
Mrs. FOWLER. Yes.
Mr. HEALING. I am aware of that, also, and I tend to agree that until that report is available, no one will really know for sure the degree to which inspections need to be carried out further, and the degree to which routine damage or widespread damage can be assessed.
Page 24 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 Mrs. FOWLER. So we will just wait on that.
I was interested in reading your testimony, because you talked about this arc fault circuit interrupter, which sounds to me, that is going to truly be of tremendous benefit, but that it is going to be delayed, maybe three years because of funding problems.
From where are the funding problems? Is it the FAA or industry or where? You did not specify it in your testimony.
Mr. HEALING. Actually, I believe the commercial solution, AFCB, is very near term. We are talking one to two years, really, based on what we have seen. This is the Naval Aviation Systems Command, in conjunction with the FAA, working on that.
The military solution will be slightly different. I guess you would called it a militarized solution. That is currently constrained by funding that is just not available.
Mrs. FOWLER. So the funding is not available through the Navy or through the FAA? That is what I want to find out. Where do we need to put a little pressure here?
Mr. HEALING. It is on the military side.
Mrs. FOWLER. On the military side? So it is a Navy program, and it could be delayed up to three years, if we cannot get a little bit better funding there.
Mr. HEALING. Yes, ma'am.
Mrs. FOWLER. Because, to me, you are looking at a technology that could certainly save lives, the way you have described it in your testimony, and we need to move that up.
So that is good to know. I will certainly be weighing in on that, from the subcommittee side, to see if we cannot get a little more focus put on that funding.
Could you tell us, Mr. Healing, what the Navy is now doing to address the vulnerability of wiring, and what other branches of the Armed Services are doing also, to address the issue, and how that compares with commercial airlines?
Page 25 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 Mr. HEALING. I can certainly speak to what the Navy is doing. As part of the Aging Aircraft IPT, Integrated Product Team's efforts, and the wiring specialists or the electrical systems specialists down at NAVAIR, they have conducted, in the past, some rather extensive surveys in conjunction with Electromechanical Corporation and with others that inspect and assess the condition or the health of the wiring in many of our aircraft.
Our efforts consist of replacing some of the vulnerable wiring, where we can identify it in advance, and certainly using an upgraded type of wiring, when we replace wire that needs to be replaced, or has been assessed as degraded.
So we are actively pursuing it. However, wholesale replacement of wire is still not fiscally reasonable or possible at this time.
Mrs. FOWLER. But my understanding is, in all new planes, the Navy and all branches of the military in the air do require the composite wiring in all of your new aircraft, correct?
Mr. HEALING. We require a different MILSPEC from what was available before. The current thing that is specified is, and there are at least two different mil specs, but the one that comes to mind is Excell ETFE, which is Mil 22759, I think.
That does not mean that we are limited to using that, because I know that the Navy is interested in pursing any type of wiring that is going to be more resistent to the environmental conditions and operational conditions that we face.
Mrs. FOWLER. But none of your planes now are made with the old wiring, the polyamide wiring; and you have a policy, when you do repair and overhaul the old planes, depending on what you find, the newer type needs to be put in.
Mr. HEALING. Yes, ma'am, we have written regulations and rules that are out there right now that call for that; replacing the older wire with a different wire, whenever any replacement is done, and preventing the use of the old type of wire in any of the new aircraft that are being built.
Page 26 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 Mrs. FOWLER. Are you familiar with how that compares with the practice with the commercial airlines?
Mr. HEALING. On the commercial airlines, I think, in the United States, for example, I have received some information that Boeing has been using a different type of wiring from the pure polyamide that was used before.
They have been using something different from that for a long time. So I believe commercial airplanes built in the United States today are quite different from what was built many years ago.
Mrs. FOWLER. Do they have a similar type of repair philosophy that the Navy has followed, too, as far as replacing the wiring?
Mr. HEALING. I believe so, but I do not know that for a fact. I believe so.
Mrs. FOWLER. Okay, I have just one other question.
Mr. Hollinger, in your inspection, you found 3,210 wire anomalies. My understanding is that any one of these could lead to any arcing event and a fire; yet, you deem none of these to be safety of flight problems. Is that correct?
I mean, I asked you a few minutes ago if you had found any defects that you thought were a safety issue. But seeing here that there over 3,000 of these anomalies, you do not think any of those are really safety issues?
Mr. HOLLINGER. I would say it would not be correct to state that each of those would have led to arcing and a fire.
Mrs. FOWLER. No, I said any one of which might.
Mr. HOLLINGER. A lot of the defects noted were things like tie-wraps that are used to hold the bundle together, which may have been missing. There may be clamp which may have become loose. There may be a connector which has been corroded so, therefore, it needs to be replaced.
Page 27 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 All of these types of defects are what the maintenance program of an aircraft is about. The reason the airplane comes in for a check list this, either every 18 months to three years, or whatever the time period is, is to find these types of things.
In a normal check, an aircraft actually has about 1,000 non-routine items written up against it. That is on the entire aircraft. That includes structures, systems, and everything else.
The fact that we averaged about 40, concerning the wiring on these, is very much a normal representative type thing, of the types of things you see on a regular routine maintenance, that is normally replaced and repaired throughout the life of the aircraft.
Mrs. FOWLER. Thank you.
I want to also welcome Mr. Isakson from Georgia, who has joined us this afternoon. Do you have any opening statement that you would like to make for the record, Mr. Isakson?
Mr. ISAKSON. I have no opening statement, Madam Chair.
Mrs. FOWLER. Thank you.
I will then turn to Mr. Traficant for any questions that he might have.
Mr. TRAFICANT. I was going to defer to Mr. Oberstar, but he would prefer for me to go ahead. The reason I was going to defer, and I really mean this, one of aviation's best friends is Mr. Oberstar.
Probably the brightest and what I consider to be the most knowledgeable, if there is such a thing, expert in Congress, over the years, dealing with aviation, has been Mr. Oberstar. I think your record of achievement has saved a lot of lives already.
So I am going to have a few questions. I know that you have a bundle of them, and I am glad to see that you are here. You always take an interest in these oversight hearings.
Page 28 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 Mr. Healing, you made a comment earlier that you are glad to be back. One of the reasons that you are back is, we value your expertise, and we value the fact that you tell it like it is, and you tell us the truth. So you are welcome. As to you, Mr. Hollinger, we are still evaluating you. But we really appreciate that, Mr. Healing.
You know, I am the guy that is known as the ''beam me up'' guy. I do not have the sophisticated questions. I more or less have like a street analysis approach.
I hear we have up to 170 miles of wiring. So we have been downsizing Government. I mean, do we have to have everything to satisfy every luxury in an aircraft, or is it not time to move towards a simplification of processes, so that we could reduce the amount of wiring, and thus reduce the exposure?
Now that is not a question. That is a statement. But I think it is one that ATSRAC and other organizations perhaps should be considering. Should we be doing all that we are doing at such risk?
Second of all we talk about clamps. We talk about these plastic cinches and binders. We talk about original construct. These clamps and these devices to secure said wiring are put on by people.
The human input cannot also be removed from human error, where a clamp may not be placed appropriately, but missed in oversight or inspection; or a cinch is just a little too tight, and people in their hurriedness in construction could lend a reasonable safe wire to an ultimate endangered state, with years of wear and movement and vibration of the craft.
So I guess I think it is time that we start simplifying the wiring apparatus on aircraft. If we can downsize Government, we can downsize the harnesses in aircraft. That should be a goal.
Second of all, my question is, do we have the type of intensive inspection scrutiny in the post-construction, pre-flight commercialization and use of these aircraft?
Page 29 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 Mr. Healing, how do you feel about that? Do you believe that these small things, the clampings, the cinches, the closures, the joining; is there that much scrutiny, or could that be another stage? Should there be another step of certification of inspection?
Mr. HEALING. Yes, sir, I think you will find, in my written testimony, some reference to what is called smart wiring. I think that encompasses both of the things that you suggest.
First of all, I think smart wiring, once it becomes practical to install and use, which may be five or six years away, is based on existing technologies that are being miniaturized as we speak, and they would provide full-time, real-time, on-board health assessment during flight, to tell you what the health of the entire wiring system is on an aircraft. Certainly, the critical ones would be the most likely ones to do first.
On the other end, existing technologies that are starting to be applied differently, which are wireless or use of fiber optics, which are metal-less, would still address the consumer's desire for more stuff available on the aircraft and, at the same time, potentially reduce the potential for an arcing type event, which is the type of thing that we have been talking about: starting fires and creating problems in aircraft.
So I believe the technologies exist. The use and application of them is emerging and being applied to areas where it will simplify or reduce the risk. I think probably the right word to use is manage the risks that are attendant to the kind of things that we have seen in the past.
I paint a very encouraging picture. The technology largely being developed in the defense and DOE world is very applicable to these things.
Mr. TRAFICANT. Well, let me ask you this then, Mr. Hollinger. After these tragedies, especially that which has been so scrutinized as TWA 800, and all of the committees that have been formed, and the respective Government approaches and analysis and apparatus to investigate and recommend, even though we have the safest aviation program in the world, and it is a very safe transportation medium compared to others, are we better off now after the efforts that have been taken by Congress, through oversight, through directed legislation; are we safer now in the air than we were before TWA 800, in your opinion?
Page 30 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 Mr. HOLLINGER. I would say, yes.
Let me tell you some of the things that have actually happened already. In each of these you would obviously only be able to prevent a potential problem, and so it is hard to measure prevention of potential problems, because they do not occur.
But based on the first thing that has happened, even before the inspection of the aircraft started, all the airlines got together and shared their best practices; the best way that they found throughout their history of dealing with certain types of wiring issues.
Those were all collated together with help from the FAA and published as ATA Spec 117. The spec is a free spec to anyone. It is on the ATA website, with no charge. It can be downloaded, free of charge.
It deals with best practices of dealing with wire; how they are routed; the types of band radiuses; how they should be clamped; how often they should be tied together; all these types of things. So different operators may be doing certain things right. Now they can do all this collection of these things the best way.
Also, from the inspections that were done, there were things that were foundthese were not immediate fleet-wide safety concerns, but there was room for improvement. By making these improvements we can, I believe, help other potential problems, and keep them from occurring.
Sometimes it is not always just one event, but it is a combination of events that leads to an incident. So by improving a lot of different smaller areas, we can try to eliminate the possibility of a combination of small events occurring together. These items have been recommended for review, and are being announced very shortly.
Mr. TRAFICANT. I have one last point. Before I make that, I would ask unanimous consent that any questions that I have, that I do not ask here, be submitted in writing and answered in writing and spread across the record. I ask unanimous consent to that extent.
Page 31 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 Mrs. FOWLER. It is so ordered.
Mr. TRAFICANT. I have one last point. Continuing education, employee training and taking the worker who performs the task up the ladder with the sophistication of the new technologies, is this being done and has there been adequate scrutiny on the hiring of new hires and their capabilities?
Just without an elaborate answer, are we training them; are we bringing our workers along with the technology; are we making sure the people we hire are predisposed to producing a safe product; and have we looked at that element, that human element, at the very basic level, Mr. Healing?
Mr. HEALING. My assessment of that is that we are not doing as much as we can, and that everybody agrees that we need to do more. The NTSB and the TWA Sunshine Hearing made that quite evident.
Mr. TRAFICANT. How do we do that? Is Congress going to have to mandate through some legislative vehicle some initiative to do that, or have that, or begin to micro-manage or set standards, which we do not like to do; but if it is not being done, is that the ultimate arena?
Mr. HEALING. My belief is that the airlines want to do it, because they realize the benefits will be there, in terms of safety, and also changing training programs to enhance the training of their people is a whole lot cheaper than some of the other alternatives. So I think they would be more inclined to go in that direction as far as they can.
Mr. TRAFICANT. I would like you, and for any other panel participant who has just heard that question and that answer from Mr. Healing, to send us your suggestions. This is not to certainly indite or to incite labor, but to ensure that point, that human dimension is adequately addressed.
I ask that the remainder of my questions be submitted in writing. I thank you.
Page 32 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 Mrs. FOWLER. Thank you, Mr. Traficant.
Mr. Oberstar? I think Mr. Isakson said he did not have any questions; is that correct?
Mr. HOLLINGER. Madam Chair?
Mrs. FOWLER. Yes?
Mr. HOLLINGER. May I provide an answer to Mr. Traficant's question?
Mrs. FOWLER. Yes.
Mr. HOLLINGER. This is just to further let you know what has been going on there. The Spec 117 was not just the written spec. There was also a video produced of that. That has been sent to all the HEA carriers.
Many of them have already incorporated that into their training programs, so they are using the video. They are using the material that is in there, when they go through their training of their ANP mechanics.
The other thing that is going on is, one of our working groups at ATSRAC is the training working group. They gave us a draft presentation at our July meeting, which I felt was excellent.
It is an entire curriculum, based on a lot of the things that were found in the non-intrusive inspections on what should be taught in the training; how it should be taught, whether it should be computer-based; whether it should be video; whether it should be hands-on; whether it should be instructional; and a detailed item-by-item listing of what those are. Their final report to us will be presented at our meeting next week.
So I am looking forward to that. That is more information that can be passed on to the airlines for incorporation in their training programs, also. So the answer is, we are at the threshold of it. We have started, but we are really in the early stages, yet.
Page 33 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 Mrs. FOWLER. Just if I could follow up on that, the ATA informed this subcommittee that not a single airline has yet fully implemented Spec 117. So I do think they are working on it, but no one has fully implemented it at this time, according to the ATA.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Thank you, Madam Chair.
I concur with Mr. Traficant's complimentary remarks, Mr. Healing, on the contribution that you have made, not only here, but previously, and will continue to make on this very important issue. Mr. Hollinger, thank you very much, also, for participating in this hearing.
The Navy has developed a great body of experience and materials in aviation, because of the hostile environment in which Naval aircraft, as well as other equipment, must operate.
It was Douglas Aircraft Corporation, actually, that built the first aircraft for the Navy, and developed that very special sandwich of copper/aluminum metal, that is the hull of most of today's aircraft, and built it to such a high standard to withstand the salt air environment.
Douglas aircraft really do far outlive their economic life span anticipated when aircraft were purchased. It is not so with the rest of materials that go into aircraft, however.
Now the ATSRAC group has conducted non-intrusive inspections of over 80 aircraft and found more than 3,200 discrepancies on the installation and condition of airplane wiring; 182 of those, I understand from your reports, may lead to corrective measures. It is non-intrusive.
When you go into and when you complete the intrusive wiring inspections which are now underway, I anticipate receiving even further recommendations.
Page 34 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 Do you have any preliminary information that you can share with us about the work that you are now undertaking on the intrusive inspections?
Mr. HOLLINGER. I apologize. I did not come prepared to discuss that. We did have a draft report given to us. Actually, the final one is finished. It was sent out by courier to all ATSRAC members. I was hoping to have received it this morning, prior to coming, but it was not received yet.
All ATSRAC will have the final report in their hands, it should be, today or tomorrow, to have time to read over the 300 page document, prior to the next week's meeting, so we can have meaningful discussion on it.
Mr. OBERSTAR. When do you anticipate concluding work on that report?
Mr. HOLLINGER. It should be voted on and accepted or asked for revisions at our next meeting next week.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Well, I will look forward to receiving that document with great interest.
The Navy does require removal of aged wiring, and now has a requirement that Capon will not be used in future purchases of aircraft.
In certain circumstances though, the Navy does require removal of old wiring, is that correct, depending on cost and condition?
Mr. HEALING. Yes, sir, normally those actions are only taken when they have identified a specific area on an aircraft; for example, a P-3 in the wheelwells and the flap areas and so forth. When those areas have been identified as a high risk of degradation, the wire is removed and replaced. In other cases, it is usually only when there is a sign of a degraded condition.
Mr. OBERSTAR. So replacement is very targeted, very specific, not the entire wiring of an aircraft?
Page 35 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 Mr. HEALING. Yes, sir, that is correct.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Do you or Mr. Hollinger have any estimates of costs of removal and replacement of all wiring on board aging aircraft, per aircraft?
Mr. HEALING. We actually, in the Navy, some years ago, attempted or actually undertook wholesale replacement of wiring on certain aircraft, and found it to be extremely costly. The exact numbers, I could not give to you, because I do not have them. But it was expensive enough that it was quite clear. It had to be done a very selective basis.
By way, before I go any further, may I say, thank you, sir, for your leadership for so many years in aviation, taking on the challenge of making sure it is a safe operations. It is a phenomenal system that we have here.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Thank you very much.
Mr. HEALING. It is in no small part from your efforts. Thank you.
Mr. OBERSTAR. I appreciate that. Thank you very much.
Mr. HOLLINGER. Mr. Oberstar, I have been informed that our Chairman of ASTF actually is employed by Federal Express, who has had a large conversion program from DC-10 to the MD-10.
During that, basically because of all the differences in going from a three man cockpit to a two man flight cockpit, they had to do a lot of wiring. They did most of the wiring in the aircraft. They said it was in the range of $3 million to $4 million on a DC-10.
Mr. OBERSTAR. The question then would be under current FAA rules, to do a cost benefit analysis of the removal and replacement of wiring. I suppose that would have to be limited to aging structures, those beyond the 15 year period; although I am still not satisfied that 15 years should be the yardstick by which we determine aging aircraft. I still think it should be done by the number of operations, takeoffs and landings of aircraft cycles.
Page 36 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 As you recall, the Aloha Airlines aircraft that lost 17 feet of its hull had 90,000 cycles, and about half of those in a salt air environment, for which it had not been properly inspected.
The industry has developed a number of materials that are very resistent to fire, resistent to arcing. There are some new materials that have been developed by several companies, including one from Minnesota, whose name I need not mention here, that can withstand a flame up to 1,000 degrees.
It is sufficient to use in covering of seat cushion material or insulation on aircraft to prevent fire on board aircraft, or at least resist until substantially everybody can be evacuated. Are such materials available now for wiring, insulation?
Mr. HEALING. Sir, there are a number of materials that are very resistent to flame and non-flammable, by and large. However, in an arcing event, the temperature can exceed 6,000 degrees centigrade, I have been told. There is nothing around that will be resistent to that level of temperature.
So probably the key thing to think about is that if we can prevent the breakdown of the insulation to the point where conductors are exposed and arcing can occur, or if we can intervene with the process of arcing, with the arc fault circuit breaker, we have materials available today, I think, not just from several sources, which will answer that need.
Mr. OBERSTAR. I certainly feel that the arc fault circuit breaker equipment should be required and should be installed on aircraft, if FAA is not prepared to require airlines to spend the $3 million to $4 million per aircraft, or more than that, perhaps in the case of larger structures, and is not prepared to require them to replace wiring.
Secondly, there should be more attention paid to separation of wiring in the stringers in aircraft, and protection of wire bundles or individual wires, as they move through the stringers, so that they are not subject to the chafing that has resulted in wearing away of insulation exposing wire and causing the arcing.
Page 37 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 The third area that I think needs to be addressed is that of more specific training or retaining of maintenance mechanics in de-checks to be more careful in moving aircraft wiring in the process of doing their intensive checks.
We know, because we have seen the reports of metal shavings near wire bundles, of scrapings of the wire bundles in the process of conducting intensive maintenance, and incidentally and accidentally induced fault that later results in arcing and burning of the insulation materials.
Do you concur with those thoughts?
Mr. HOLLINGER. Yes, that has actually been put into the revised Spec 117, to pay particular attention to cleaning, even if you are doing structural work, to cover the wire bundles that may be below, and these type of things, where it just was not widely recognized as being an issue before, and now we have learned a few things.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Have you reviewed new design of aircraft, either stretch or revisions of existing aircraft, like the 737, for example, that has gone through at least eight versions, and we are now on 737, 800 and 900 models, to see whether in the design of the aircraft and systems on board the computer-aided design is paying special attention to wiring systems, and to developing more protective measures for new installation of wiring?
Mr. HOLLINGER. No, ATSRAC did not involve itself into the design considerations.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Well, the major manufacturers all now have these 3-D design systems where you put the special goggles on, and you look at it, and you re-create the whole aircraft, including the wiring system, the air conditioning system, other movable surface systems.
So it seems to me that the design stage of aircraft development ought to be alert to this issue, and ought to incorporate the ideas that your committee is developing. I would urge you to talk with the manufacturers about that.
Page 38 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 I thank you, Madam Chair.
Mrs. FOWLER. Thank you, Mr. Oberstar. I appreciate your being here and your, as always, very good questions and points that you brought out. I will have some further questions, too, that I will submit for the record, for these witnesses.
Again, I want to thank you both so much for all the assistance that you have been providing to this subcommittee, and all that you are doing, as we all work towards providing a safer aviation for the flying public.
Thank you very much.
The Chair would now like to call Dr. Bill Linzey and Vince Press from Lectromec Design Company. Dr. Linzey is a Lead Technician, and Mr. Press is Director of Marketing at Lectromec. They will show the subcommittee a live demonstration of what an actual wet arcing incident may look like.
I asked for this demonstration because just reading about an arcing incident or seeing a video does not, I believe, provide a real perspective of the dangers that they pose. I would like to thank all of the people at Lectromec for putting together this demonstration.
Now if we have got Dr. Linzey and Mr. Press here, it is the policy of this subcommittee to swear in all hearing participants. So if you would just please rise and raise your right hands, we can swear you in.
Mrs. FOWLER. Thank you so much. Gentlemen, you may proceed.
TESTIMONY OF VINCE PRESS, DIRECTOR OF MARKETING, LECTROMEC DESIGN COMPANY, AND DR. BILL LINZEY, LEAD TECHNICIAN, LECTROMEC DESIGN COMPANY
Page 39 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 Mr. PRESS. Thank you, Madam Chairwoman and members of the committee.
I am going to briefly introduce Bill. In a few moments, he is going to demo what we call a wet arc track resistance test. It is a standard test that we use in our lab among other tests that we administer to measure the integrity of wire and wire insulation, the properties of wire, and the condition of insulation.
It actually is a standard test. This very similar to the one that we use in our lab. It is not just simply a show and tell toy. It is actually something that we test similar to those that we ran for the NTSB as part of their TWA 800 investigation. We also are in the process of running many of these type of tests on space shuttle wire to determine the condition of the wiring in the space shuttle.
We are very proud and pleased that we are a friend of industry, and we have worked with the NTSB, and currently work with the FAA on their intrusive inspection program, which is a phenomenal program. We are glad we are participating in it.
Dr. Linzey is using a hermetic polyamide wire type that he has pre-damaged or put some nicks in, which is there to simulate damaged wire on an aircraft. They are very small nicks.
As you will see, he will drip some saline solution, that is three percent saline solution, that might mimic lavatory waste water and its conductivity and/or sea water, and is a condition that occurs not only in the military, but in the commercial world, with contamination and operating around the ocean and such.
Basically, what you will see is a severe arcing condition which is, and I will stress this, a severe condition or outcome from damaged wiring. Certainly, all the anomalies that were discussed earlier by Mr. Hollinger do not result in a condition like you will see here; but, obviously they can.
Page 40 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 I think a photo has been put up or two photos have been put up on the right hand side. You will see some hermetic polyamide wire type with small cracks in it.
This is one of the research projects that we run in our lab, where we subject this particular wire type to the things that plague it, which are water, heat, and strain, such as a bundle of wire that is bent in such a manner for years, that it cracks if exposed to those. Those are similar to the cracks that Dr. Linzey has put in this wire.
On the left is, again, an extreme example of an actual Navy aircraft bundle of wire, some years ago, that had arced or flashed over, and that is the result.
We will give credit to the NTSB for this photo, which was taken during inspections as part of the TWA investigation of a newly retired 747. Obviously, this particular area of zone has been subject to metal shavings, as you can see on the top of the wires, and also contamination and metal shavings are just one of the instances that can cause the cracks or breaks or damage in wiring, as Dr. Linzey has put in these.
The interesting thing, as Bob Swain put this up during the TWA hearing, that occurred to me was, in this instance, as we talk about training and recognizing conditions like this on a commercial aircraft, one of two things has happened: either this area has never been looked at, or this area has been looked at, and it was not recognized that this was an adverse condition.
Again, this is another actual bundle of wire from years ago, that our boss, Mr. Bruning, had taken of an actual Navy aircraft that had suffered a flash or arcing event.
I will explain a little bit about what Bill is going to do, and then he will take over. You will see an arc or flashing event, and it will stop about a second later, because it will have tripped a circuit breaker in the set-up that we have.
Then Dr. Linzey will re-set the circuit breaker, and it will arc again, because he is, in essence, re-energizing the circuit.
Page 41 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 One of the things this unit is used for, this portable unit, is a training tool for both maintenance practices and pilots to understand exactly the ramifications or potential ramifications of bad wiring, and also the ramifications of re-setting circuit breakers in the cockpit, under certain circumstances. So those are some of the things that you will see.
Thank you very much for this opportunity.
Mr. LINZEY. All right, we have a bundle here that is set up. Like it has been said, we have two nicks in the wire. We are going to energize this wire with regular power. This is from the building power. We are going to drip a saline solution between the cracks in the wire.
What is going to happen, it will take several drops. As the water hits the wire and spreads between the cracks, you develop a conductive path. You will get some conductivity. You will build up carbon slowly, and when the carbon path is complete, you will get the arcing event. Not only the two wires that have been pre-damaged, but other wires in the bundle, become involved in the arc.
Let me make sure we have every thing on. The sequence is, I am going to energize the bundle and turn the drip on and wait. That is the conductivity path being formed, and that is the arc. If you reset the circuit breaker, it just does more damage. That is it.
Mrs. FOWLER. Thank you.
That does show you what could be happening inside your plane, as these arcs occur.
I do have just one question. If an arc fault circuit interrupter was installed, as was explained earlier by Mr. Healing, would that prevent this type of arcing from occurring, or does it apply to wet arcing?
Mr. LINZEY. No, I am not real familiar with what he was speaking about. But from what I understand, yes, if you have one that works properly, that would have detected and shut off the power.
Page 42 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 Mrs. FOWLER. And it would have shut if off so that this would not have occurred then. Again, I hope there are some people from the Navy here watching. If not, we are going to make sure they know.
I think we need to speed up the funding, because if you could get those completed and installed in planes, it is probably a lot less expensive than re-wiring then. Then you would not have the possibility of this to happen, and these tragic accidents to continue to occur.
So one picture is worth a thousand words. This is exactly what we needed to see. I want to thank you, again. Lectromec has really gone to a lot of trouble to do this. We appreciate your working with us on it to make this so visible.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Madam Chair?
Mrs. FOWLER. Yes, Mr. Oberstar?
Mr. OBERSTAR. If I could just follow on the response, the arc fault circuit breaker would stop the flow of power.
Mr. LINZEY. Right.
Mr. OBERSTAR. But whatever residual fire may have occurred as a result of the arcing would propagate by itself.
Mr. LINZEY. Yes.
Mr. OBERSTAR. You are cutting off the source of power with the interruption of the circuit breaker.
Mr. LINZEY. Right, and depending on how well they are developed and set, it will shut the arc off within a couple of cycles, and so the amount of energy is dissipated.
This arc probably had about a kilijewel of energy that was dissipated. So that is the energy needed to set other things on fire.
Page 43 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 If you had an arc fault interrupter, it would have interrupted it before too many jewels of energy had been dissipated. So the odds that something would catch on fire would be very much lower.
Mr. OBERSTAR. But then resetting the circuit breaker would reintroduce the electrical current.
Mr. LINZEY. Right.
Mr. OBERSTAR. So the flight deck crew has to be also trained not to push their luck.
Mr. LINZEY. Right, that is why we have this demonstration.
Mr. OBERSTAR. All right, thank you, Madam Chair.
Mrs. FOWLER. Thank you.
Mr. TRAFICANT. Would that be about the intensity of the faulted wire apparatus within the center fuel tank of TWA 800? Would that have been about that kind of intensity?
Mr. LINZEY. I do not have expertise in that, so I hesitate to answer.
My understanding is that the particular fuel tank circuit had limiting protection to limit the current, but other wires in the bundle had power equivalent to this. So the power could have got transferred into the wires.
Mr. TRAFICANT. See, the point I am trying to make, as Mr. Oberstar discussed, you have the circuit breaker, and certainly the crew has to be advised that once this happens, they cannot reintroduce current to the system without the tremendous possibility of tragedy.
But in the center fuel tank, with limited fuel, I do agree, after the investigation that I was asked to conduct by Subcommittee Chair, Mr. Duncan, I did concur with the limited understanding that I have, that with that little bit of fuel, which would not normally have been a fuel tank problem, but the vapors of that little bit of fuel sloshing around in there, the circuit breaker was not going to help anybody.
Page 44 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 Because the initial ignition with those vapors caused the concomitant explosion and implosion, if you will, of the TWA flight. Would that not be a fact?
Mr. LINZEY. I think I would agree with that, with my limited knowledge of the circuits in the TWA 800. In the first few cycles, quite a bit of energy could be dissipated, and could ignite.
Mr. TRAFICANT. Would it not behoove all the manufacturers, wherever possible, to remove the potential of wiring harness from such systems; and can it be done?
Have I gone beyond you?
Mr. LINZEY. Yes.
Mrs. FOWLER. Yes, we can ask the next panel.
Mr. TRAFICANT. We are going to have to ask the FAA, I am telling you, boy you are getting it.
Well, I do not know, after seeing that, Madam Chairwoman, I am going to drive more often.
Mrs. FOWLER. Again, I want to thank Mr. Press and Dr. Linzey for all the work that you and your employees did to put this together. Thank you for being with us.
Do you have any further statement, Mr. Press?
Mr. PRESS. I just wanted to thank you for the opportunity.
Mrs. FOWLER. Thank you so much.
I would now like to call the witnesses for our next panel. We will hear first from Alexis Stefani. Ms. Stefani is the Assistant Inspector General for Auditing with the Department of Transportation's Office of Inspector General.
Page 45 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 Then we will next hear from Elizabeth Erickson. Ms. Erickson is the Director of the Federal Aviation Administration's Office of Aircraft Certification Service.
I would like to welcome you both, and welcome Ms. Erickson back, as someone who has previously testified on this issue.
As you know, it is the policy of the subcommittee to swear in all of its witnesses, so if you would please rise and raise your right hand.
Mrs. FOWLER. Thank you. If you would please be seated. I would like to ask if you would each limit your statements to about five minutes. Without objection, your written testimony will be made a part of the record.
Ms. Stefani, if you would proceed.
TESTIMONY OF ALEXIS M. STEFANI, ASSISTANT INSPECTOR GENERAL FOR AUDITING, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION; AND ELIZABETH ERICKSON, DIRECTOR, AIRCRAFT CERTIFICATION SERVICE, FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION
Ms. STEFANI. Thank you, Madam Chair and members of the subcommittee. Thank you for the opportunity to discuss FAA and industry efforts to address concerns about the safety of non-structural aircraft systems, such as electrical and mechanical systems.
The United States aviation system is remarkably safe. Yet, recent accidents and incidents, most notably TWA Flight 800 and Swissair Flight 111, have heightened concerns about the safety of non-structural aircraft systems, principally wiring.
Since these accidents, Government and industry have taken a number of actions. FAA has issued over 40 airworthiness directives to correct wiring problems on large commercial aircraft.
Page 46 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 FAA and industry have also conducted inspections of in-use aircraft that are 20 years old or more, and the White House has created an inter-agency working group to coordinate research on wiring, not only on aircraft, but on space shuttles and the nuclear industry.
Today, I would like to make three points on where FAA can enhance its efforts on this important safety matter.
First, to be proactive in preventing accidents and incidents, FAA needs reliable information on non-structural safety problems in the U.S. transport fleet. However, current reporting systems are not geared toward reporting problems with wiring.
Airlines and air repair stations must report failures, malfunctions, or defects to FAA through the Service Difficulty Reports, or SDRs. The purpose of this system is to provide FAA with data necessary for guiding their various safety efforts.
We found, however, that meaningful analysis of this reporting system to identify wiring problems cannot be done. There is no code currently to specifically identify wiring problems. For example, industry officials told us that if you found an electrical problem with a hydraulic pump, the reported classification in the SDR would be a problem with the pump, not the wiring.
FAA, today, has a final rulemaking to change this system. But we are concerned that there is considerable confusion as to whether or not revisions to this SDR system will improve reporting of wiring problems.
There are several key issues that need to be addressed. First, how will wiring data be characterized or coded in the system; will it be coded as the primary or the secondary cause of the problem?
For the example that I previously noted, that would mean, would the pump be recorded, or would the wire be recorded as the first data element?
Page 47 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 Second, according to FAA, in order to implement the rule, an advisory circular containing specific instructions to the airlines and the repair stations on what must be reported has to also be issued. Without consistent coding, the true extent of the problems will never be known.
Third, of most concern to us is the health of this SDR system, itself. While the new rule was intended to improve the data in the system, FAA must also ensure that the reports that are provided to it are complete, timely, and follow the guidance.
We found, however, that the SDR system is not robust, and over the years, it has suffered from budget cuts with staffing going from twelve full-time to three full-time people. Weakness in this system reduces the reliability and usefulness of the data, and can impact FAA's ability to do trend analysis.
At the request of this subcommittee, we are also looking at the cost and schedule of FAA's non-structural research efforts. FAA's research and development efforts can lead to important safety improvements.
FAA spends about $40 million a year on aircraft safety research, with the largest single line item being $22 million for its aging aircraft program.
However, the bulk of this aging aircraft money is spent on structural issues. In fiscal year 2000, FAA spent about $1.3 million, or only six percent of its research and development fund for the aging aircraft program, on non-structural systems.
FAA is funding two important projects: one with the Air Force on evaluationg a new wire inspection system, and one with the Navy on the arc fault circuit breaker, to help in the wiring problem. But as we reported in March of 2000, FAA needs to determine the appropriate mix of structural versus non-structural funding in this aircraft safety program. Even though it has asked for $5 million in future years for non-structural research, we are not sure that is the appropriate mix.
Page 48 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 I would like to make one final point. We have always seen in safety issues that involve multiple workforces, industry, and various Government areas, FAA is rather good at defining the problem. It can issue a plan, but it must follow through with the implementation of collective actions. This is really the key success.
Thank you very much. I will be pleased to answer any questions that you may have.
Mrs. FOWLER. Thank you, Ms. Stefani.
Ms. ERICKSON. Thank you, Madam Chairman. I am pleased to be invited back here again to speak with the subcommittee on such an important safety issue as our Aging Systems Program.
As you will recall from the last hearing, we talked about this plan being modeled after our highly successful Aging Structures Program. That program had four basic elements: data collection, to better focus our efforts and create a base of knowledge; comprehensive multi-pronged plans; implementation of those plans; and state-of-the-art research to promote the development of new technologies, which continues today.
We are following the same path with our aging systems program, and we have made substantial progress over this last year. I have been deeply involved in this program. I am pleased to say that our major milestones are being met. The NTSB has played an important role in helping us identify issues in our plan, as well.
Improvements have been accomplished already. An awareness of wiring safety has been raised. There have been better maintenance practices already being applied, and advancements in the new technology area, as you have already heard, are very promising.
We will next be entering the important phase, as Ms. Stefani just mentioned, of implementation, while we continue our efforts to spur the development of new technologies. As we always do, if immediate safety issues are identified, we will act to take appropriate corrective action, just as we have done from the tragic TWA 800 accident, with nearly 40 airworthiness directives.
Page 49 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 I would like to highlight our progress by referring you to our chart over here on this side, that conceptually describes our plan. The tasks are accomplished by both the FAA and ATSRAC, the advisory group that you heard Mr. Hollinger speak about.
ATSRAC and the FAA, through a research program, have nearly completed the data collection tasks. As Mr. Hollinger summarized, current service history reviews are complete. Eighty-one in-service aircraft have been inspected, and we have completed in depth inspections of six older aircraft models, targeting certain wire types in areas of the aircraft.
In these inspections, visual inspections were followed by insitu wire testing methods. Then we literally dissected these airplanes, and took airplane wire bundles and their connectors out of the airplanes, into laboratories for further work and analysis.
Altogether, this work provides us with a foundation of knowledge from which to develop our products and our plan for action.
From the efforts to date, we can conclude that while there are no immediate fleet-wide safety problems, there are definite improvements needed in maintenance and inspection, training and awareness, design and modification, and data reporting. The product and plans are coming to fruition. FAA will begin fiscal year 2001 on schedule.
Industry has developed a training course outline, which the carriers will incorporate into their training programs. In the area of improved system data reporting, ATA has developed a code dedicated to wiring.
FAA issued a rule on service difficulty reporting, which will be effective in January, which includes reporting on electrical system and structural problems. FAA is developing advisory material, as Ms. Stefani mentioned, which will specify how this data is to be reported.
As a result of the service information review, FAA will be issuing corrective actions in the form of ADs. Specific recommendations to enhance maintenance programs and improve design practices will be presented next week at the ATSRAC. We expect that new maintenance inspections, updated design manuals, and policy will result from their efforts.
Page 50 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 As with aging structures, research and development efforts have been with us since the inception of this important program, and will continue. The main focus areas of our research are: the inspections that you have already heard about; the development of new technologies; component testing and assessment; wire degradation assessment; and as a national resource for our ongoing efforts, we have a 747 to be used as a test bed at Sandia National Labs, now and in the years to come.
I have personally been there, crawling all over these older aircraft, and examining wiring sections from the dissected aircraft, which will be used in the years to come to prove out wire testing methods and inspection methods, to help us with new technology developments.
This subcommittee focused on arc fault circuit interrupters at the last hearing. I am excited to report that our cooperative efforts with the Navy to promote the rapid development of this technology is progressing even more rapidly than we originally thought. Developmental flight testing will begin soon.
In parallel, so we do not waste any time, we are actively at the moment developing standards for this technology, and developing associated certification criteria and advisory material.
In another area of our research, we are awarding two contracts for technologies that have future promise for developing an inspection method for wire on in-service aircraft.
In short, I am pleased that the FAA has a comprehensive program with broad industry, union, and Government cooperation, both domestically and internationally, delivering results to deal with wire system safety, and to maintain the safety of aircraft in the fleet, no matter their age.
We appreciate your continued interest, Madam Chairwoman, in this important safety subject.
Page 51 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 That concludes my testimony. I would be happy to answer any questions that you may have.
Mrs. FOWLER. Thank you. I appreciate both of you being here and the work you have been doing on this. I just have a couple of questions, and then I will submit some others for the record.
I wondered, Ms. Erickson, in looking at what the FAA is doing, as you go along, ensuring that this old wiring is inspected, are you also taking the following steps to ensure that this is being replaced where need be? I mean, what are the steps the FAA is really taking to make sure that these inspections are occurring in these aging aircraft, and that follow-on replacements are happening?
Ms. ERICKSON. As we did with our Aging Structures Program, we are going to have multi-pronged solutions to what we see.
I would like to clarify something that is of equal importance as age. In our non-intrusive inspection programs, we found that there were many things that really are not age dependent. There were things like the maintenance practices, as I think Congressman Oberstar had mentioned before, that we need to attend to, no matter how old the wiring is.
So the first thing is, we need to get that disseminated all over. There will be enhanced inspections, both visually, and we hope with our investment in new technology research, we will have methods for insitu testing on in-service aircraft for the condition of wiring.
Right now we have not developed any requirements for replacement of wiring, although the airlines do that in the course of repair, if they find some damage.
Mrs. FOWLER. So of you have not developed any requirements yet on that, what level of priority; you know, the FAA has different safety priorities. What level of priority is the FAA assigning to the issue of wiring?
Page 52 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 Ms. ERICKSON. It is an extensive high priority, Madam Chairwoman. I have, personally, in my job, spent an awful lot of time on this issue, making sure that we proceed with all of the things with haste, in getting the word out there, making sure we have got our research appropriately funded.
We have established, in our own organization, a full-time key leadership person out in our transport directorate, that is heading this up for us. He is supported by many other people on my staff, as well as in our flight standards organization.
Mrs. FOWLER. And who would that be, that is the key?
Ms. ERICKSON. My head person is Mr. Chuck Huber, and also Ms. Vi Lipski.
Mrs. FOWLER. They are the two in charge?
It was noted, I think, in the IG's report, the issue on funding, which had been decreasing in some of these areas, rather than increasing.
Do you think additional funding is needed for research and development, to increase the speed in which we can get some of these new technologies on implemented; or again, if this is a high priority, is the FAA also putting the priority on the funding that needs to be done to make sure these move forward?
Ms. ERICKSON. Right now, we spend about $40 million annually in the aging aircraft research, which includes both structural and the aging systems work.
We project about $5 million out for the next years, which is really quite an increase over what we spent this past fiscal year.
Right now, that looks like the right balance for what we have planned, but we do have the ability to readjust within that Aging Aircraft Structures Program, as we see fit.
Mrs. FOWLER. And then I have just one last question for you, Ms. Erickson. As was noted again in the IG testimony, the new SDR program that you are coming forward with, it does not encompass aircraft wiring, I gather, as a separate item, and there is not going to be separate coding or compartmentalization for it. The example of the hydraulic pump was a good one.
Page 53 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 Does the FAA plan to change that? I mean, are you re-looking, since you have seen the IG's report, as to how these SDRs are going to be done, and is wiring going to be coded and characterized differently, and when will that change be implemented, if you are going to make any changes?
Ms. ERICKSON. Yes, the new rule for the Service Difficulty Reporting will be effective in January. We are actively right now developing advisory material that will specify how the data is supposed to be collected and reported.
There is a code that is now developed. That is Code 97. It is to be attached to an identifier. So for instance, if there was a fuel pump problem, that has a special number. Next to it would be the code for wiring.
Once you get that inputted into the data base, you can sort that many different ways. So you would be able to trend the wiring information.
Mrs. FOWLER. So the code you are talking about, is that the code system that the ATA now uses, and then the FAA is going to do a new one?
Ms. ERICKSON. The ATA establishes a code or a chapter, they call it. They have done that. Then with our rule and the advisory material, we will specify how that data is supposed to be reported, collected, and inputted into the data base. Did I answer your question? I am sorry.
Mrs. FOWLER. Not exactly, but I will let my colleagues ask questions. I just am concerned, with the points that were brought out in the IG report, I hope the FAA is re-looking at how you are coding and compartmentalizing these, so that when the problem is wiring, that there is a way in which to pinpoint that quickly, rather than having to dig through the sub-categories to get to it.
Ms. ERICKSON. I agree, Madam Chairwoman, and we are going to be paying attention to that.
Page 54 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 Mrs. FOWLER. Thank you.
Mr. TRAFICANT. Yes, I have some questions. But before I do, I want to ask unanimous consent that any questions that I do not ask, that are submitted in written form, be expeditiously answered in written form to the committee.
Mrs. FOWLER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
Mr. TRAFICANT. I do not mean this in a derogatory way, but I have some questions, and I want an answer, just yes or no.
Mr. Stefani, are you an electrical engineer?
Ms. STEFANI. No, I am not.
Mr. TRAFICANT. Ms. Erickson, are you an electrical engineer?
Ms. ERICKSON. No, I am not.
Mr. TRAFICANT. Is Chuck Huber an electrical engineer?
Ms. ERICKSON. He is an electrical engineer. His name is Mr Chuck Huber.
Mr. TRAFICANT. Huber? Is Vie Lipski an electrical engineer?
Ms. ERICKSON. No, she is not. She has an extensive background in maintenance and manufacturing inspection.
Mr. TRAFICANT. Okay, are there any electrical engineers, to the best of your knowledge, that serve in key positions of inspection and/or certification for FAA?
Ms. ERICKSON. Absolutely; I have a very talented group of electrical engineers that work in our organization throughout the country.
Mr. TRAFICANT. I would ask that that list be submitted and their credentials to our committee. I would ask unanimous consent for that, Madam Chairwoman.
Ms. ERICKSON. I would be happy to provide that.
Page 55 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 Mrs. FOWLER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
[The information received follows:]
Within the Aircraft Certification Service division of the FAA's Regulation and Certification organization, there are 77 highly qualified and talented Electical Engineers.
Mr. TRAFICANT. Second of all, you know, one of the things that I think is a Catch 22 in the commercial business is maintenance, and at what level, versus cost, what exposure, relative to maintenance and safety. Everybody wants to be safe, but everybody wants to be competitive. Everybody wants to have an edge.
I think it takes us to the point where it is natural in our free enterprise system to produce the best product at the most competitive cost factor. One of the big contributors to the cost factor is maintenance. I think that cannot be overlooked.
I had asked the previous panel this. After this demonstration, with a relatively low volume of fuel sloshing around in the center fuel tank of TWA 800, could there be any possibility that that tragedy could have been averted with such a spontaneous flash, Ms. Erickson?
Ms. ERICKSON. There are a number of things that could have gotten in the way of preventing that from happening.
Mr. TRAFICANT. I did not ask that. I said with very low volume of fuel in the center fuel tank sloshing around, producing fumes and vapors, would a flash of that proportion been impossible to prevent from ignition?
Ms. ERICKSON. For the fuel vapors to ignite, is that what you are asking me?
Page 56 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 Mr. TRAFICANT. Yes.
Ms. ERICKSON. If you have a state in the aircraft, as you are saying, when you have got flammable vapors, if you do have an ignition source like that, it will ignite.
Mr. TRAFICANT. Yes, now here is my question. We have come to a lot of technologies, and we have some real sophisticated technologies, with all kinds of electrical gadgets.
But we also have a thing known as simplicity. Is it possible to remove wiring from fuel tank systems, and is it possible to develop force-fed gravity pump type systems versus electrical wiring harness systems, that would be placed inside a fuel tank?
You see, to me, I think one of the most volatile positions and situations that could develop is that fuel tank situation, where people, to make money, may have enough fuel to get to a certain destination, and they are running a little bit behind. Then with the schedule pressures upon them, to meet the demands for time and customer satisfaction, they do not fill up and take that risk.
Is it possible to avoid electrical apparatus and go to very simplistic, primitive, common sense, non-electrical pumping devices, or are such things being evaluated and is such technology being pursued, to the best of your knowledge?
Ms. ERICKSON. We have just issued a special Federal aviation regulation on a proposal that tells equipment designers, and that is the original equipment designers like manufacturers, as well as those who would modify fuel tank systems, to make sure that any ignition source is prevented in the aircraft. So that would drive them towards things like you are talking about, very naturally.
Mr. TRAFICANT. But it does not mandate that wiring be kept out of fuel tanks.
Page 57 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 Ms. ERICKSON. There is very little wiring already in fuel tanks, even by their design. There are methods being looked at for not having that have to happen at all in aircraft fuel tanks.
Mr. TRAFICANT. I think the FAA has done a marvelous job. I think I agree, the National Transportation Safety Board deserves a lot more credit than they get.
But I think there must be a way to ensure there are no wires, and that if there need be wires, that they could be on the outside of said tanks, with the adequate insulation, so that such pumping devices necessary to transport the craft are taking us down to a zero risk. I think that should be done. TWO 800 should, in itself, be enough of a precursor to move us all in that direction.
So I have a number of questions, again, that will be submitted in writing. I would appreciate your response in writing in total.
Mrs. FOWLER. Thank you, Mr. Traficant.
Mr. Isakson, do you have any questions?
Mr. ISAKSON. Thank you, Madam Chairman. I am not an electrical engineer, by any stretch, and part of my questions may fully indicate that I have little knowledge in that area.
But, Ms. Stefani, in your written testimony, in addition to FAA's efforts, you refer to efforts that Boeing is making which, the way it is written, implies that Boeing's work on arc fault systems and yours is independent of one another. Is it, or is it not? Is the FAA doing its research independent of Boeing?
Ms. STEFANI. My understanding is that Boeing is doing their own work in this area. That is correct.
Mr. ISAKSON. My second question is, and again, I may read this wrong, but it says in the third quarter, Boeing is going to begin testing its arc fault circuit breakers on non-flight critical cabin systems; and then hopes by 2002 to be able to work on arc fault circuit breakers with regard to fuel tanks.
Page 58 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 So my question is, evidently, there is a whole different bit of technology in a non-flight critical circuit, and a flight critical circuit, and there must be different types of arc fault circuit breakers that would have to be installed. Am I correct?
Ms. STEFANI. My understanding is there are a variety of arc fault circuit breakers in the aircraft. One of the issues as we understand it is the difference between the critical and the non-critical circuitbreaker similar to the idea you saw with re-setting the circuit breaker.
On noncritical circuits, you would not then go and re-set anything thereby preventing another possible incident. The technical development and the time it would take to get a noncritical circuitbreaker out and available first would be easier.
I would have to refer to Ms. Erickson, but I would also think that the certification process would be slightly less for the non-critical. So you would be able to get it into the plane quicker.
Mr. ISAKSON. Given Mr. Traficant's comments a minute ago, which begs the question that, you know, this is a scary business about what might happen with the vapors if there was an arc, why would FAA and Boeing not be doing their testing together; or why would you not pool your resources? If both of you are working on testing the arc fault circuit breakers, would there be something wrong with that?
Ms. STEFANI. I do not think there would be anything wrong with it. Sometimes competition in the same area is good to push a technology out faster.
In addition, when you are using and developing something with Government, sometimes a corporation gives away rights, as far as future marketing. So I am not sure, and I do not pretend to speak for Boeing, why they have chosen to go out on their own.
Mr. ISAKSON. Well, I understand patents, copyrights, intellectual property issues; all those types. But I was thinking more of not Boeing going on their own, as well as FAA inviting them to work with FAA, and giving them those protections, should the research end up breaking new ground.
Page 59 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 I mean, it would seem like the more you combine the resources, because both have the same interests; FAA hopes to never investigate another crash that could have even been caused by wiring, and Boeing hopes to never build an airplane that crashes because of wiring.
Since money is mentioned in the beginning of the testimony, about how much has been spent and how much will be needed, it seems to me like if somebody in the private sector was doing it, you could give them intellectual property protections, and ask them to join with you, because both of you want the same end. That is just my observation.
Ms. ERICKSON. May I attempt to answer that?
Mr. ISAKSON. Yes, ma'am; I am sorry to have avoided you, Ms. Erickson. I did not mean to.
Ms. ERICKSON. That is okay.
With our program that we are working on with the Navy, we are working with two different companies, trying to speed the development of this technology for its application in commercial airplanes.
We are also, because we must certify products, keeping abreast of what Boeing is doing with their flight testing program.
Coincidentally, one of the companies we are working with is one of the companies that Boeing, as the manufacturer, is working with on the arc fault circuit interrupter. So we are very familiar with it.
Mr. ISAKSON. Okay, thank you very much.
Thank you, Madam Chairman.
Mrs. FOWLER. Thank you, Mr. Isakson.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Thank you, Madam Chair.
I want to thank the panel for their very thoughtful and expert testimony.
Page 60 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 Ms. Stefani, on page two of her testimony says that of the $40 million research budget, $22 million is for aging aircraft, of which $1.3 million is for research on non-structural systems; is that accurate?
Ms. STEFANI. Correct.
Mr. OBERSTAR. That is accurate? Beth, do you confirm that number?
Ms. ERICKSON. Yes, that is correct. That is for this fiscal year.
Mr. OBERSTAR. That is right. It seems to be a relatively comparatively small number. In light of the increased awareness, why has that number not been bumped up; or is that all it takes?
Ms. ERICKSON. It is projected to be bumped up to $5 million annually, over the next five years. The reason that it is $1.3 million now is we were still beginning our data collection efforts, so that we could better target and focus our research efforts in the future.
So it was primarily funding those inspections that we talked about and the arc fault circuit cooperative work we are doing with the Navy. As we ramp up to the $5 million, we have more targeted programs now that we are going to be starting.
Mr. OBERSTAR. The IG report also says that FAA's attempts to analyze SDRs for problems with aircraft wiring met with little success. Meaningful analysis could not be performed because coding to specifically identify wiring problems is not available.
What have you done to address this matter? If we cannot quantify the magnitude of the problem, we cannot really begin to effectively address it.
Ms. ERICKSON. It is of concern for us. That is why we have been working to try to get that new wiring code, so that it can be more easily identified, and we can have trend analysis done on that data, as well.
Page 61 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 But I think with the service history reviews that have been done, and with the in depth inspections that we have done, we have enough data now to know the exact areas that we need to target for improvements.
Mr. OBERSTAR. You are responding, then, to the concern raised that in the rulemaking now underway to change the SDR, quoting from Ms. Stefani's statement, ''There is confusion as to whether or not revisions to the SDR system will improve reporting of wiring. Key issues are how wiring data will be characterized and coded, and providing necessary resources for improving the overall health of the SDR system.''
Are those issues being addressed in this final rulemaking?
Ms. ERICKSON. The rulemaking, itself, has requirements for additional reporting that were not there before. For instance, before the requirements required reporting, in-flight conditions.
Now it will also require reporting from maintenance, and that is very important, as you know, and the advisory material will really get us more clear with industry about how that data should be reported and collected.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Well, with nearly 3,000 structures 20 years of age and older in the world fleet, this is a matter that requires increasing attention with increasing intensity, including addressing matters of inspection and maintenance.
The IG report also addresses the concerns identified in the Task Force review of improper clamping, improper routing, cracked insulation or insulation that has been frayed away, and exposed conductors, as well.
Those are matters that I addressed earlier of training the maintenance personnel to be more careful with the wiring systems. If you are not going to replace them, after they have aged to the point where they are brittle and braided, where the insulation is either worn away or sufficiently corroded that it will no longer perform its function, there needs to be more attention paid to these very sensitive systems in maintenance.
Page 62 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 The report goes on further to say the majority of discrepancies were found in areas of frequent maintenance activity, where wiring was unprotected from debris and from fluid contamination.
In this demonstration and in those photographs displayed earlier, we saw where there are metal filings, as I said earlier, that are associated with the wiring bundles. They become attractors to fugitive electricity. A great deal of work needs to be done with this matter of training of maintenance personnel and conduct of maintenance, to be more careful.
Now one issue that has been of concern to me is FAA allowing the airlines to conduct sort of rolling, aging aircraft maintenance, as they do rolling de-checks.
When we crafted the aging aircraft law, based on the lessons learned from Aloha Airlines and from the Worldwide Aging Aircraft Conference, held right over here in Crystal City, and the hearings that this subcommittee conducted over many years, it was the consensus of aviation maintenance seasoned personnel worldwide, that you need to stop and take stock of an aircraft, and take a snapshot at a certain point in its life span.
That is not just do a little piece here and a little piece there; but take that whole aircraft out of service, and from stem to stern, a new philosophy of maintenance; not just inspect and replace, as needed, but to take out parts at a certain age length, whether they had been replaced a year ago, a month ago, and do it all over again.
Otherwise, you are going to have flying patchwork quilts in the air, allowing the airlines to, in effect, do the aging aircraft step, which was intended to be a much higher level, a much more intense level of maintenance.
If they want to keep those aircraft flying 25, 30, and 35 years, then they have to engage in the additional cost and the additional intensity to look for corrosion, to look for metal fatigue, to look for non-structural system failure potentials, and do this work more expertly and more intensively than anything else they have ever done.
Page 63 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 I am disappointed that we are seeing this sort of a creep of standard de-check practice into the aging aircraft requirement.
Ms. ERICKSON. I could not agree more, that if airlines are going to be flying aircraft longer, that there must be enhanced maintenance practices, not only on the wiring, but also, as you well know, since you have been almost the father of the Aging Structures Program with us and have really provided us support over the years, that it also must include that for the structures, as well.
We have been working with the airlines on how to define that the best way. Certainly, out of the Aging Systems Program, we are going to be having more targeted enhanced inspections in those areas.
Mr. OBERSTAR. That is encouraging to hear. I urge you to continue on that practice, and to reel the airlines back to the original concept of stop, look, listen, inspect the hell out of those aircraft, and replace parts to ensure that we do not have major system failures.
I appreciate the IG just keeping an eye over the shoulder of the FAA, as our constituents keep their eye over our shoulder, to make sure we are doing our job properly. That is why we are here, gathered in this hearing.
Nothing made me feel better than to hear you say, Beth, that you have actually put on grubbies and crawled through aircraft, and looked into these maintenance practices. That is what you should be doing, and I compliment you on doing so.
Ms. ERICKSON. Thank you.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Madam Chair, I compliment you on conducting this hearing, and the time and effort that it takes to develop the background material, to develop an understanding of the issue, and to present this. You are doing an immense service to safety in this your perhaps final hearing.
Page 64 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 Mrs. FOWLER. Well, this is, Mr. Oberstar.
Mr. OBERSTAR. So you conclude your service in the committee, though not yet your service in the Congress, on an extremely high note. We have a ways to go, both on the Counter-Terrorism Council and on the disaster assistance legislation, and especially on this issue in aviation safety.
Thank you and congratulations on all that you have accomplished.
Mrs. FOWLER. Thank you, and as I said, I thank you, again, for all of the advice and assistance that you have given to me, particularly these past two years, as I have chaired this subcommittee.
I have deeply appreciated it. I want to thank you for participating today, because as has been stated several times, you really have been the champion and the pioneer of aviation safety in this country. That is what it is all about, making sure that we continue to have the safest skies in the world.
So I do deeply appreciate your participation today, very much. Thank you.
I just have a brief closing statement. As I mentioned earlier, in America today, airline travel truly has become the preferred mode of inter-continental, inter-state, and even intra-state transportation. Last year, over 600 million Americans flew on commercial airlines. By 2010, that number is expected to grow to one billion passengers.
Flying is safe. However, I believe that we can make flying even safer, if we take advantage of new and emerging technologies and maintenance techniques.
So I am encouraged that we are making progress on this issue, as we have heard today. As more information is received from our partners in the private sector and from our own research labs, we are better equipped to prepare the kinds of solutions that this issue calls for.
I am concerned, however, that the pace of our research and development has increased; but while we have increased that, the pace of our application of the resulting products of this research and development has not.
Page 65 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 So as the speed of development increases, so must our procedures for their implementation. New technologies are being developed, as some were mentioned today, that if subjected to some of our existing procedures will be years behind by the time they are implemented.
We cannot apply 20th century rules and procedures to 21st century technologies. That also goes to funding, too. We need to get the funding up on some of these.
So this subcommittee, in cooperation with the Aviation Subcommittee, will ask the FAA to prepare two reports. The first will be a comprehensive strategic plan for addressing these important safety issues, including identifiable milestones and measurable interim goals.
The second report will direct the FAA to examine their research methods and their rulemaking procedures to determine where changes can be made to speed up the process, while at the same time maintaining the high level of safety that we expect and enjoy.
This is an area where the FAA can model itself on what other Government agencies and departments are doing. The Navy has established the Office of Safety and Survivability, which Mr. Healing is the great head of, and which has as its mission the rapid implementation of new safety devices.
This office looks at all areas of the fleet. If they see a safety device or a problem that needs to be fixed, then they fast track a solution, even if that means purchasing an off-the-shelf item.
This committee remains committed to improving air safety. We have had a long-standing, positive working relationship with the FAA and all of our partners in the private sector. So if we continue to work together, we can solve these problems, and we can make the skies that we all fly in even that much safer.
So, again, I want to thank Ms. Stefani and Ms. Erickson, again, for being with us today, and for all of the work, Ms. Erickson, that I know you are doing with the FAA, to move this procedure along. As Mr. Oberstar said, for the IG to be looking over the shoulders and letting them know where they need to do it a little bit better or faster, we appreciate it so much.
Page 66 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 As this is my last hearing to chair, as Chairman of the subcommittee, I want to give special thanks to the members of the subcommittee. I said earlier, Mr. Traficant is my Ranking Member. He has just been a delight to work with.
My other members of the subcommittee have been so diligent and so good. Mr. Oberstar has given me so much advice and assistance, and Chairman Shuster. It has really been great serving under them.
Then there is the special staff. This subcommittee has a great staff, Marcus Peacock, Charlie Ziegler, Miki White, Denise Beshaw, Dan Shulman, and Trinita Brown have just truly worked hard.
As they said earlier, we had a lot of different issues that we did this year, and we have got several pieces of legislation, one of which definitely will be signed into law. Another one might be. So we had a lot accomplished in our first two years of the existence of this subcommittee, after a lack for a few years, when we did not exist.
So, again, I want to thank you all for your hard work and all that you have done. This hearing will now be adjourned. Thank you.
[Whereupon, at 4:04 p.m., the subcommittee was adjourned, to reconvene at the call of the Chair.]