FBI investigates engine flaw claims at General Electric

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THE Federal Bureau of Investigation has launched an inquiry into charges that General Electric, one of the world's largest electrical engineering groups, suppressed test results showing that thousands of aircraft engines were flawed. The charges have been made by a GE employee, who claims that engines in civil and military aircraft have electrical problems that could cause them to lose power. The employee, an electrical systems engineer at a GE plant in Cincinnati, has filed a dollars 100m lawsuit against the company in a federal district court in Ohio.

The investigation comes within two weeks of a furore over Lucas Industries, the British defence company, which admitted that one of its units had falsified tests of missile launchers sold to the US Air Force.

Lucas, which agreed a dollars 12m settlement, has been at the centre of a Justice Department inquiry into falsifying tests and lapses in quality control. The company may be faced with other charges related to an inquiry into its Lucas Western division in the US.

The charge against GE is that electrical bonding - a method of eliminating the effects of electrical interference in engines - adversely affects safety. But a GE spokesman dismissed the claim as outrageous and frivolous and said it had no basis in fact.

'There is not a single reported incident of a GE engine failing in service from causes related to electrical bonding.

'Aircraft powered by GE engines take off somewhere around the world every seven seconds and have had more than 200 million hours of flight without this problem.'

The plaintiff, Ian Johnson, made similar allegations about engine safety in 1992. GE then investigated the issue and concluded that the electrical bonding method used was safe.

The group told the authorities, including the Department of Defense, about Mr Johnson's worries, but said the government had never indicated any concern over GE engine safety.

Robert Stiber, vice-president of GE Aircraft Engines, said his division performed stringent tests on every engine control system to verify safety and performance. These included the prevention of malfunction as a result of lightning and electromagnetic interference.

He said the tests conformed to worldwide government and industry standards.

GE shares fell dollars 1/8 to dollars 49 7/8 in early New York trading yesterday.