Thursday, November 15, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- November 15

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

”Nov 15, 1987: A Continental Airlines DC-9 crashed on takeoff at Denver Stapleton airport, killing 28 of the 82 persons on board. The National Transportation Safety Board cited the probable cause of the crash as the captain's failure to have the airplane deiced a second time after a delay before takeoff. Contributing factors listed by the Board included the absence of regulatory or management controls governing operations by newly qualified flightcrew members and the confusion that existed between the flightcrew and air traffic controllers that led to the delay in departure. (See Dec 12, 1985 and Mar 22, 1992.) “

In my opinion, this was another airline deregulation induced disaster. You can check out the NTSB summary and find out the First Officer had 36 hours of experience in a jet. That was more time than the Captain had as a Captain though. And it goes downhill from there.

Instead of the note, “(See Dec 12, 1985 and Mar 22, 1992.)”, I think it should say, “See Aug 6 1981” and keep going. I’ll put some emphasis in the following because it’s sure to get lengthy.

”Aug 6, 1981: The Civil Aeronautics Board approved acquisition of Continental Airlines by Texas International, a subsidiary of Frank Lorenzo's holding company, Texas Air. The transaction was consumated in Oct 1981. A year later, Lorenzo merged Texas International's operations into those of the much larger Continental. (See Sep 24, 1983) “

”Sep 24, 1983: Continental Airlines filed for bankruptcy protection under Chapter 11 and suspended flights. Frank Lorenzo (chairman of the airline and its parent company, Texas Air) announced on Sep 26 that a "new Continental" was resuming operations, on a discount-fare basis, to about a third of the cities formerly served. He offered to rehire 4,200 of the firm's 12,000 employees at salaries below those paid under their union contracts. Continental's pilots and flight attendants began a strike on Oct 1, but failed to shut down the airline. By the end of 1983, the company employed approximately 700 pilots and 800 flight attendants. (See Feb 6, 1984.)“

”Feb 6, 1984: FAA conducted an intensive inspection of Continental Airlines, lasting through Mar 9. The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) was on strike against Continental (see Sep 24, 1983), and accused it of unsafe practices. The FAA report cited discrepancies but concluded that overall safety was adequate. (Two members of the inspection team later charged that higher officials had altered their report to make it more favorable to the airline; however, an FBI investigation found no basis to prosecute for impropriety.) In Jun 1984 congressional hearings, ALPA charged that FAA was covering up safety violations by Continental, while FAA testified that the airline was safe. (See Mar 18, 1985.) “

”Mar 18, 1985: FAA began an in-depth inspection of Continental Airlines that lasted through Apr 26. This was the second special inspection of Continental (see Feb 6, 1984) since the Air Line Pilots Association began a strike against it. On Jun 11, 1985, FAA announced that the airline continued to operate in basic accordance with safety regulations. In Mar 1986, however, Continental paid a $402,000 penalty for violations uncovered by FAA during its 1984 and 1985 inspections. Meanwhile, the flight attendants and mechanics ended their strike against Continental in Apr 1985, and a bankruptcy court resolved the pilots strike during that October by ordering a back-to-work plan. On Jun 30, 1986, the court approved a plan allowing Continental to end its bankruptcy within sixty days. (See Sep 24, 1983 and Dec 3, 1990.) “

” Feb 1, 1987: The Texas Air holding corporation merged New York Air and People Express into Continental Airlines. “

” Apr 18, 1990: A Federal bankruptcy judge removed Eastern Air Lines from the control of Texas Air Chairman Frank Lorenzo and placed it in the hands of special trustee, Martin Shugrue. Eastern had lost more than $1 billion since it filed for Chapter 11 protection on Mar 9, 1989. On Aug 9, 1990, Scandinavian Airline System bought Lorenzo's interests in Continental Airline Holdings (formerly known as Texas Air Corporation), which owned Eastern and Continental airlines. Besides stepping down as chairman of Continental Airlines Holdings, Lorenzo agreed not to work for a Continental competitor for seven years, although this stipulation was later dropped as part of a legal settlement. (See Mar 4, 1989, and Jan 18, 1991.) “

”Sep 8, 1993: An administrative law judge recommended that DOT deny the application of Friendship Airlines, later renamed ATX, to operate as an air carrier. The company had been founded by former Texas Air chairman Frank Lorenzo. Although DOT ordered the judge to reopen hearings, he reconfirmed his recommendation on Dec 22. On Apr 5, 1994, DOT rejected the application, citing past safety and regulatory compliance problems experienced by airlines run by Lorenzo.“

In case it hasn’t dawned on you, should our ATC system suffer a similar accident (God forbid), somebody else will be dissecting our history a decade later.

Don Brown
November 15, 2007

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