The Federal Aviation Administration issued a proposed rule Tuesday that would require the installation of fire detection and suppression systems in the sealed cargo holds of all commercial aircraft.
The airline industry would have three years from the time the rule becomes final to meet the new standards. The FAA said it hopes to have a final rule by the end of the year.
A spokesman for the Air Transport Assn., the trade group that represents the airline industry, said the industry plans to install the new systems as soon as possible.
The new rule would affect about 3,000 passenger aircraft and another 300 cargo planes. Most long-range passenger aircraft, such as the new Boeing 777 jetliners, already meet the new standard, the FAA said.
The FAA estimates it will cost about $300 million to retrofit all U.S. aircraft with the new fire-suppression systems. The lifetime cost of installing and maintaining the safety equipment is estimated at $90,000 per aircraft.
Most cargo compartments already have fire detection and suppression systems for ventilated compartments used to carry pets and plants, but they do not have the fire safety systems in sealed cargo compartments. The assumption had been that if a compartment was sealed, the lack of oxygen would extinguish any fire.
The new rule proposal comes little more than a year after a ValuJet DC-9 crashed into the Florida Everglades, killing all 110 people aboard.
The crash has been blamed on a fire in the hold that was started by heat from a shipment of oxygen generators.