Thursday, November 01, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- November 1



After a rather long dry spell, the history lessons are picking up again. There are at least a dozen events I could write about today -- bombings, mid air collisions, crashes, the first FAA Administrator --but I’ll stick with just two.

From the FAA Historical Chronology, 1926-1996...

”Nov 1, 1937: A Department of Commerce rule went into effect that required scheduled air carriers to employ a copilot on multi-engine aircraft with retractable landing gear or wing flaps, and on single-engine aircraft incorporating both retractable landing gear and wing flaps. It also required a copilot in scheduled service during instrument flying and during flights that exceeded a certain duration. (See Oct 1, 1931 and Jul 8, 1940.)“

It’s hard to remember that there was a time when there wasn’t any “road map” or history on which to base decisions in developing the National Airspace System. A copilot on an airliner is just something we take for granted now.

From the FAA Historical Chronology, 1926-1996...

”Nov 1, 1975: New procedures went into effect requiring air traffic controllers to provide an extra mile of separation between small aircraft landing behind large and heavy aircraft capable of generating hazardous wake turbulence (see Mar 1, 1970). Reflecting the findings of two special studies, the new procedures required that small aircraft be separated by 4 miles when landing behind large aircraft and by 6 miles when landing behind heavy aircraft. The "small" aircraft category (12,500 lbs. or less) included most of the country's air taxis and general aviation aircraft. The "large" category (12,500-300,000 lbs.) included certain business aircraft such as the Sabreliner and Jetstar, the smaller DC-8s and Boeing 707s, and the Boeing 727 and 737. (The Boeing 757 also joined the “large” category after its certification in 1982.) The "heavy" category (300,000 lbs. or more) included the C-5A, DC-10, L-1011, Boeing 747, and the larger versions of the DC-8 and 707. (See Spring 1976 and Dec 19, 1992.) “

When you read today’s aviation news, I want you to keep this one phrase in mind: Wake Turbulence. Seriously, that one phrase will allow you to separate fact from fiction faster than anything else out there. Here, let me show you.

The FAA has redesigned the airspace so that more planes can land and take off at the same time...”

To which you say to yourself, “wake turbulence” and you immediately realize it’s fiction. You can only get airplanes so close together before they encounter wake turbulence and start crashing.

At some hours, Kennedy has more than 100 scheduled arrivals and departures. The F.A.A. said the airport actually handled 80 or 81 per hour this summer, which is the maximum the Transportation Department wants the airlines to schedule.

The airlines said Kennedy could handle more with better equipment and procedures, and have complained that the department’s target number is too strict.”


“Wake turbulence.” The statement “...Kennedy could handle more with better equipment and procedures,...” is fiction.

You’ll notice that those two stories come from well-respected new sources so let me be clear that the problem isn’t the messenger -- it’s the message the press is being given.

If you’ll take the time to read this report from the NTSB about the crash of American Airlines 587 you’ll understand some of the concerns about wake turbulence and how serious it is.

Don Brown
November 1, 2007

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