WASHINGTON - U.S. airlines will be required to regularly disinfect and monitor on-board drinking water systems under a new rule unveiled on Tuesday.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has for the first time tailored existing public water monitoring regulations to commercial aircraft.

The change, five years in the making and affecting 63 airlines and 7,300 planes, will replace interim systems for monitoring bacteria and other pathogens that could sicken passengers.

The EPA expects the annual cost to the industry to be about $7 million. Airlines have 18 months to develop maintenance plans that comply with the standards.

Regulators found in 2004 that some U.S. airlines were not in compliance with general clean water standards, mainly because existing EPA rules did not specifically cover on-board water systems.

The EPA ordered dozens of carriers to take steps to ensure that drinking water aboard their planes was clean.

(Reporting by John Crawley; editing by Gunna Dickson)