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Back to the lab

THE Federal Aviation Administration has the proper goal in seeking a reliable way to prevent fuel-fed fires during plane crashes. But it now ought to go back to the development laboratory to develop a really effective means of prevention. It should not bulldoze ahead with its proposal to require use of the fuel additive it tested over the weekend, a course the FAA administrator has indicated he will pursue.

The test was hardly reassuring. The radio-controlled crash landing of an unoccupied airplane produced the fireball and stubborn flame that officials had hoped to prevent. By their own admission firefighters had trouble putting out the fire.

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When crashes of commercial airplanes occur, fire and smoke frequently endanger passengers who survived the jolt of landing. In an effort to prevent these fires, the FAA has been working on the anti-misting kerosene additive just tested, over the objections of the airline industry, which had held that further testing was necessary, and that the additive was too expensive.

Cost is not the basic point: Surely the flying public would pay a little extra for additional safety. The fundamental issue is that travelers deserve to be assured that any fire-retardant system used does, in fact, work well.

The proper step for the FAA now is to send the anti-misting kerosene back to the laboratory for further refinement, or to develop a different procedure.

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