U.S. airlines would have to replace insulation on 831 Boeing airplanes at a cost of $330 million to cut the risk of fires, under a rule...

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U.S. airlines would have to replace insulation on 831 Boeing airplanes at a cost of $330 million to cut the risk of fires, under a rule proposed by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Airlines would have six years to replace the insulation that was installed between 1981 and 1988, said John Hickey, the FAA’s head of aircraft certification, at a news conference yesterday in Washington, D.C. The insulation has a film covering that fails to meet current flammability standards, he said.

The proposal applies to Boeing 727, 737, 747, 757 and 767 jets.

Airlines have 60 days to comment on the proposed rule. About 1,613 planes worldwide would be affected if other nations’ regulators followed the FAA’s lead, as they usually do.

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Hickey said the agency does not believe the insulation problem poses an imminent danger.

However, “Fire and airplanes are a bad mix, so when you have the opportunity to reduce the risk you take it,” Hickey said.

A number of cases of burnt insulation were found during maintenance, he said, declining to give a figure.

The flammability of insulation that shields passengers from engine noise and frigid temperatures has been a focus since some of the material ignited before the crash of Swissair Flight 111 in 1998.

Boeing and a supplier, Flame Seal Products, have developed a flame-retardant coating to be sprayed on the insulation as an alternative to removal, said Boeing spokeswoman Liz Verdier. The jetmaker hopes to make the coating available to carriers next year if the material gains FAA approval, she said.

Using the spray coating rather than replacing the insulation might reduce the rule cost to less than $200 million, the FAA said in a statement. Verdier said the spray method would cost significantly less than the FAA estimate, but declined to be more specific.

Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.