Airline Agreement Gets Fire-Safety Measures off the Ground

Article excerpt

The airline industry's decision to retrofit most passenger planes with smoke detectors represents a small but significant step in improving US aviation safety.

Under the agreement announced yesterday in Washington, 25 airlines will install fire detectors in cargo holds of about 3,700 planes, at a cost of about $400 million. The measure is intended to reduce the likelihood of accidents such as the ValuJet crash in May, which government officials believe was caused by a fire in the cargo hold of the aircraft.

Yesterday's announcement stems from a commission headed by Vice President Al Gore, charged with working with the airline industry to improve safety and security measures. The commission began its work after the July 17 explosion of TWA Flight 800 over Long Island, in what has turned out to be the worst year on record for deaths worldwide from aviation accidents. Mr. Gore said the airlines' decision to install fire-detection devices is "an important step on the path to improved safety. It signals the beginning of a change on how the government and industry work together to improve safety goals." He was flanked by President Clinton and executives from major airlines. The move is the latest by the vice president's commission to improve the industry's safety record. The commission released a report in October that called for increased security practices at airports, such as baggage matching, enhanced cargo and mail inspections, and deeper background checks on airline employees. Those measures have all been adopted. The commission's next report, to include more safety recommendations, is due to be released in February. The major carriers involved in yesterday's announcement, represented by the Washington-based Air Transport Association, are acting voluntarily, but the Federal Aviation Administration had already announced plans to mandate fire-detection devices in passenger planes that don't yet have them. …