Thursday, December 06, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- December 6

Decisions, decisions. Sometimes, it seems as if there isn’t a thing of interest in the FAA’s history on a certain date. And then, there are dates like today. I could go with the Microwave Landing System (MLS) that was going to replace the Instrument Landing System (ILS) -- but didn’t. Or the “satellite based” communication system that failed to replace the “land-based” system we still use to today. Just so you could see the hype behind those systems and relate it to the hype you hear today...

But, I think I have to stick with the runway capacity issue.

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

”Dec 6, 1981: A new Metropolitan Washington Airports Policy became effective. In the making since 1978 (see Mar 23, 1978), the new policy differed only in a few respects with the policy proposed by the Carter Administration in 1980. The overall objectives of both the Carter and Reagan policies were to reduce the noise impact of operations at Washington National, maintain National's longstanding status as a short-haul airport, and promote better utilization of Dulles. The policy placed no restrictions on Dulles, while putting the following limitations on National:

* A 16 million cap on the number of passengers enplaning and deplaning per year (compared to 17 million under the Carter plan).

* A maximum of 60 landing slots per hour distributed as follows: Part 121 air carriers, 37; Part 135 commuter air carriers and air taxis, 11; general aviation, 12. (Compared to the Carter plan, this gave Part 121 operators one more slot and Part 135 operators one less.)

* Extension of the nonstop service perimeter rule from a radius of 650 to 1,000 miles (see Oct 30, 1986).

Whereas the Carter plan would have lifted the ban on 2- and 3-engine widebody jets at National, the Reagan plan retained the ban. Moreover, the new administration eliminated the Carter plan's restrictions on night-time arrivals and departures; instead, it limited operations at National between 10:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. to aircraft that generated no more noise than 73 dBA on takeoff and 85 dBA on approach. The noise limitations, which become effective on Mar 1, 1982, initially had the effect of excluding jet operations at the airport during the specified hours. (See Aug 31, 1983.) “

The majority of this policy was driven by noise complaints. That will interest some folks in the New York metropolitan area. The thing that should interest the controllers -- and anybody interested in the safe, orderly and expeditious movement of air traffic -- is the retention of the 60 operations per hour restriction. (Note: I believe the use of “ 60 landing slots per hour” is an error in the history entry. DCA’s current “best rate” is 55 arrivals per hour and the law says “IFR Operations per Hour.” Not to mention the data available at

Less airplanes equates to less noise, less congestion and greater safety margins. And when it comes to arriving on time, realistic caps based on capacity can mean the difference between being #18 and dead last.

Don Brown
December 6, 2007

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