Airlines would have to replace or modify old insulation in about 800 Boeing jetliners within the next six years because of concerns that the material becomes...

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WASHINGTON — Airlines would have to replace or upgrade old insulation in more than 800 Boeing jetliners to meet newer, more stringent fire safety standards, under a rule proposed today by the Federal Aviation Administration.

John Hickey, director of the FAA’s aircraft certification service, said the agency does not believe the problem poses an imminent danger. But, he said, “Fire and airplanes are a bad mix, so when you have the opportunity to reduce the risk you take it.”

Airlines will get six years to complete the work.

Canadian investigators have said that Swissair Flight 111 plunged into the ocean off the Nova Scotia coast in 1998 after a fire that was fed by insulation in the cockpit. All 229 people aboard were killed.

As a result of that crash, the FAA in 2000 required airlines to replace their insulation if it was the kind used in the Swissair plane, an MD-11. About 700 Boeing and McDonnell-Douglas aircraft had to swap out the insulation that was installed between the jet’s aluminum skin and the cabin.

The deadline for that costly retrofit is June 30. Insulation has been replaced on about 90 percent of the aircraft.

The FAA set higher fireproofing standards for insulation in 2003, but the problem with the insulation covered by today’s proposal had not been fully analyzed.

In 2002, burnt insulation found in a jetliner on the ground led Boeing to look into the fireproof properties of that insulation’s covering, which was made of a different substance than the insulation that the FAA had ordered removed.

Investigations by the FAA and Boeing of that incident and some others led to the conclusion that the film used to cover the insulation didn’t meet the 2003 standard.

Boeing believes that age and contamination had affected the film’s fireproof properties. The film was made between 1981 and 1988 and the FAA believes it was installed on 831 U.S.-registered Boeing 700-series jetliners.

Boeing also argues that age and contamination reduce the fire resistance of all kinds of insulation. The company has urged the FAA to look into insulation used throughout the aviation industry.

The FAA says its research shows that aging doesn’t diminish the fireproof qualities of insulation.