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727s Undergo Emergency Inspections

May 22, 1999

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Federal Aviation Administration ordered emergency inspections of the wiring of all U.S.-registered Boeing 727s late Friday, after mechanics found severe wear on wires running through the fuel tanks on two airplanes.

The agency said mechanics found signs of electrical sparking around the wires, which could trigger a fuel tank explosion.

``This condition, if not corrected, could result in ignition of fuel vapors in a fuel tank and a fuel tank explosion,″ the FAA told 727 operators.

The ``telegraphic airworthiness directive″ issued by the agency gives airlines five days to make the inspections on airplanes with more than 50,000 hours of flight time. On planes with less flight time, the inspections must be made within 10 days or before a plane accumulates 30,000 hours of flight time, whichever is later.

The order affects 1,052 airplanes, which are flown by the major passenger carriers and cargo companies such as FedEx and UPS. FAA officials were unclear what effect the order would have on the traveling public, since about one-third of the planes were cargo carriers and the inspections could be spread between five and 10 days.

``We certainly hope the impact will be limited, but we can’t be sure,″ said FAA spokesman Les Dorr.

The Federal Aviation Administration ordered similar inspections last May of the 727′s cousin, the Boeing 737.

That order came after mechanics found both exposed wires and holes in the conduit used to carry power lines through the fuel tank on a 737. The chaffing was believed to have been caused by engine vibration and the holes were believed to have been caused by electrical sparks.

Officials were concerned that the mixture of fuel, air and electricity could spark an explosion such as that which downed TWA Flight 800.

Investigators still do not know what caused the plane, a Boeing 747, to explode off Long Island in July 1996. They suspect fumes in the center fuel tank were ignited by electricity. Since then, they have been examining the wiring configurations on similar planes and ordering inspections.

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