FAA probes shipment of oxygen generators on Air France
Passenger and cargo flights suspectedJuly 29, 1997
Web posted at: 6:56 p.m. EDT (2256 GMT)
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Officials in the United States and France are investigating how more than 900 undeclared oxygen generators may have been shipped into the United States earlier this year aboard two Air France flights.
Shipments of the generators on passenger planes have been banned since the May 11, 1996, crash of ValuJet Flight 592 near Miami that killed all 110 people aboard.
While the cause has not yet been definitively determined, preliminary indications are that it was caused when oxygen generators in the cargo hold ignited an inferno that brought the plane down in the Florida Everglades.
"While the alleged shipments appear to have included generators packed in protective metal containers, we are very concerned that they may have been on board a passenger plane," said Cathal Flynn, an administrator at the Federal Aviation Administration, of the Air France flights.
"Every shipper and every airline should know by now these shipments are strictly illegal."
Oxygen generators are legal when used to supply emergency oxygen for passengers and others in the event of cabin depressurization, and are mounted overhead for that purpose.
However, when transported as cargo, their potential for causing and accelerating a fire is the reason they are banned as cargo on passenger planes. The canisters are permitted on cargo planes, but only if they are properly packaged, labeled and declared.
The French government established similar regulations shortly after the U.S. ban went into effect.
Air France may have been unaware of shipment
The FAA says two flights are being investigated -- a cargo flight and a flight carrying passengers and cargo.
An FAA source told CNN, "Air France may have been an unknowing carrier of these oxygen generators. A shipper may have presented these not properly declared to Air France."
A spokesman at the Air France office in New York refused to comment Tuesday.
The investigation began June 30 when the FAA was notified by Federal Express that a shipment it delivered to Ansett Airlines in Sylmar, California, contained an undeclared oxygen generator that was traced to an Air France shipment.
The two incidents bring to 14 the number of times that undeclared oxygen generators have been found on planes flown in the United States, said FAA spokeswoman Rebecca Trexler.
Only five of those involved passenger planes and, of those, the generators were capped in four cases and were in protective metal containers in the remaining case, making them unlikely to cause a fire.
FAA orders new fire-control systems
Due in part to the ValuJet crash, the FAA outlined new rules
last month requiring aircraft to be fitted with a halon gas
A few months ago, Continental Airlines Inc. said it had unknowingly transported armed oxygen generators April 16 on an uneventful flight from Los Angeles to Houston. Workers unloading the plane opened a cargo pallet and discovered the generators.
The Air France case is noteworthy, because of the large number of generators involved, the FAA said.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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