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Cablegate: Investigation Continues On Cal Fire - Bolt Or

VZCZCXYZ0000
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHIN #2137/01 2620821
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 190821Z SEP 07
FM AIT TAIPEI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6839
INFO RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 9077
RHMCSUU/FAA NATIONAL HQ WASHINGTON DC
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHDC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHDC
RHHMUNA/USPACOM HONOLULU HI

UNCLAS AIT TAIPEI 002137

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE PASS USTR
STATE FOR EAP/TC,
USTR FOR STRATFORD AND KATZ, TREASURY FOR TTYANG, FAA FOR
AIRCRAFT CERTIFICATIONS JOHN HICKEY

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EAIR ECON ETRD JA PGOV PREL TW
SUBJECT: INVESTIGATION CONTINUES ON CAL FIRE - BOLT OR
WASHER TO BLAME?


Summary
-------
1. (SBU) Although Japanese aviation safety authorities are
still investigating the cause of the fire that destroyed a
Boeing 737-800 operated by China Airlines (CAL) on August 20,
Taiwan's Civil Aeronautics Administration has suggested that
an aircraft design flaw may be behind the incident. Taiwan
authorities state CAL has been fully compliant with aircraft
maintenance and inspection requirements. Boeing's Taiwan
representative has expressed concern that this event could
affect timing of Boeing's sale of its new 787 aircraft to
CAL. End Summary.

Dramatic Photos of Plane in Flames
----------------------------------
2. (SBU) On August 20, leaking fuel ignited a fire that
destroyed a China Airlines (CAL) Boeing 737-800, at Okinawa's
Naha International Airport. Although there were no
casualties among the 157 passengers and eight crew members,
the extensive media coverage, including spectacular photos of
the fire and ruined plane, conveyed the impression that CAL
is still plagued by aircraft safety problems. Ironically,
the fire occured just two months after CAL renegotiated its
liability insurance premium with Taiwan Fire & Marine
Insurance Co. from USD 18 million to USD 13 million because
of improvements in CAL's flight safety record over the
preceding three years.

Taiwan Focuses on a Bolt
------------------------
3. (SBU) Lee Wan-lee, Director of the Flight Standards
Division of Taiwan's Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA)
showed AIT Econoff and visiting U.S. Federal Aviation
Administration Rep on August 31 parts from the CAL Boeing 737
that his inspectors had brought back from Okinawa. According
to Lee, CAA's initial assessment is that the fire was caused
by a bolt, part of the mechanism used to extend and retract
the slats on the leading edge of the wing, coming loose and
puncturing the plane's fuel tank. The resulting leaking fuel
was ignited by the heat of the plane's engines. Lee claimed
that maintenance and inspection of this particular assembly
is very difficult because it is not readily accessible. He
said CAA issued an air worthiness directive (AD) on August 24
requiring all Taiwan air carriers to inspect wing slat
assemblies on Boeing 737-800 aircraft within 20 days. Lee
emphasized that CAA issued its AD one day before the U.S.
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued its own AD. On
August 28, FAA issued a separate emergency air worthiness
directive (EAD), requiring inspection of the wing slat
assemblies within 10 days. CAA issued a corresponding EAD to
Taiwan carriers the same day. In meetings with AIT, CAA and
CAL representatives have highlighted the actions of the CAL
flight crew in preventing casualties in the incident and
CAL's compliance with Taiwan's aircraft maintenance and
inspection requirements.

4. (SBU) CAA Director General Billy Chang (Kuo-cheng), along
with Lee and other senior technical staff, met with AIT and
the FAA regional representative on September 7. Chang
reviewed CAA's theory about the cause of the plane fire,
emphasizing that the nuts used to hold the wing slat bolt in
place are not large enough (implying a design flaw). Lee
provided data on eight cases of wing slat bolts (technically
"slat track stop hardware") on Boeing 737-800s found to be
loose or disconnected. He stated the data was provided by
Boeing, and pertains to cases from January 1999 to July 2007
involving five different airlines, not including CAL.

5. (SBU) CAL completed the inspection of its 13 737-800
aircraft on September 8, and submitted a report to CAA and
Taiwan's Aviation Safety Council (ASC) on September 9.
Although CAL has not made any public statement about the
inspections, CAA announced that its analysis of the report
indicated 100 of 208 nuts were insufficiently tight. Japan's
Civil Aviation Bureau (CAB), the agency responsible for
investigating the CAL fire in Okinawa, notified FAA that
inspection of Boeing 737-800s by Japanese carriers found one
case of loose slat track stop hardware on a plane where there
was no record of maintence for that assembly. The Japan CAB

suggested that a necessary washer which was part of the
assembly may not have been installed in the manufacturing
process.

Boeing Worries about Impact on 787 Sale
---------------------------------------
6. (SBU) Boeing's Taiwan representative told AIT on September
12 that because of the CAL fire, it is unlikely that the
pending purchase of Boeing 787 aircraft by CAL will be
completed before Taiwan's March 2008 presidential election,
and may be postponed until some time after the inauguration
of the next president. He stated Boeing's senior management
is exclusively focused on public relations damage control.
Further, in his view it would be politically untenable for
President Chen Shui-bian's administration to proceed with the
purchase.
YOUNG

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