Aviation safety experts say commercial aircraft would be better able to survive bomb blasts if the airline industry used explosive-resistant containers for luggage and cargo.
But after four years of testing, and initial results that demonstrated it would be possible to contain the effects of an internal explosion, the Federal Aviation Administration still has not decided whether to recommend or require the industry to take action.
According to government auditors, the FAA began testing prototype containers in January 1992, after Congress directed the agency to beef up airline security because of the terrorist bombing of Pan Am flight 103 in 1988.
Part of the testing included containers that had been "hardened" by the use of Kevlar, a blast-shielding material used in bulletproof body protection and armored military vehicles.
The idea then was to find a way to make it possible for an airliner to survive the type of blast that disintegrated the Pan Am plane. In that case, terrorists smuggled a relatively small amount of plastic explosives _ about 14 ounces _ onto the aircraft.
The panel recommended that the FAA spend $2-million to buy 200,000 containers and test them.
In 1993, pleased with the progress of its research, the FAA said it expected to approve design specifications for containers by the end of fiscal year 1994. It still has not done so, and the agency said in November that it will continue to test the containers through 1997.
Lawyers get warning
NEW YORK _ The New York State Bar Association warned lawyers Friday against soliciting work from families of the victims of TWA Flight 800.
M. Catherine Richardson of Syracuse, president of the 60,000-member legal group, issued a statement reminding the state's lawyers that they are prohibited from soliciting business when they have reason to believe the mental or emotional state of a potential client is compromised.
The Florida Bar prohibits direct solicitation of victims during the first 30 days after a tragedy. The Bar has taken action against at least three lawyers for improperly soliciting clients in connection with the May 11 ValuJet crash.
FBI chief's expertise
NEW YORK _ James K. Kallstrom, who as head of the FBI's New York office would head the TWA investigation if it is blamed on terrorism, has risen through the ranks as a technical expert.
Kallstrom's eavesdropping expertise helped put crime boss John Gotti in jail, break up the Pizza Connection drug ring and convict a terrorist group of plotting to blow up the United Nations.
In his year and a half as assistant director in charge of the New York office, he has supervised such complex undertakings as providing security for the U.N.'s 50th anniversary last autumn.
Kallstrom, a 52-year-old Vietnam veteran, has spent most of his career in the city heading the unit responsible for electronic monitoring of criminals. One example was putting a bug the size of a quarter into Gotti's couch. From 1990 to '93, he was chief of the FBI Engineering and Research Section.