Boeing Statement Following the First Day of the NTSB's Flight 800 Sunshine Meeting
August 22, 2000 - After more than four years of work with the National Transportation Safety Board on the investigation into the cause of the loss of TWA Flight 800 on July 17, 1996, Boeing experts believe there was an ignition of flammable vapors in the center wing tank, resulting in a loss of a structural integrity of the aircraft. We have not been able to conclusively identify the source of that ignition. Boeing, like the NTSB, did not find any evidence of bomb damage or damage that could be expected from a missile.
NTSB staff told the board Tuesday that the most likely source of ignition was a short circuit outside the tank that made its way into the tank through the fuel quantity indicating system. Boeing has pursued a course of action that includes addressing all possible ignition sources, including the scenario outlined by the Board.
No other accident investigation has been as extensive as the work done by all involved parties in this investigation. Because we have been unable to find a specific cause, we have done extensive analysis of the entire fuel system, including design, operation and maintenance. Our detailed review of our own fuel system practices and others in the industry revealed that the industry's current philosophy is sound. Furthermore, Boeing identified 48 different opportunities to recommend design, maintenance and/or inspection improvements on a number of airplane models. We continue to work diligently to look for opportunities to improve the safety of our fuel systems and have 11 other actions in work that will help us to accomplish that.
Current industry standards are to design airplanes with the assumption that there is always flammable vapor in the fuel tanks, when in fact it is only flammable a small percentage of the time. During Tuesday's meeting staff members told the board that they believe this philosophy must be augmented by reducing flammability of fuel vapors. Boeing is supporting government and industry efforts to address flammability reduction alternatives. By reducing the percentage of time that the fuel vapors are flammable we can further increase the safety of flight. Therefore, we believe there is additional work to be done in the area of developing and deploying effective methods for reducing flammable vapor in fuel tanks. Boeing thinks this will be the next major development in further enhancing what is already a safe system. We are working diligently in coordination with the Federal Aviation Administration and industry groups to understand the best ways to implement such an improvement.
Boeing employees have been involved continuously in the investigation into the cause of this tragic accident and are committed to building safe, high-quality products. The families and friends of the 230 passengers and crew-members on board Flight 800 continue to be in our thoughts.