Friday, January 18, 2008

FAA History Lesson -- January 18

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

”Jan 18, 1990: On its landing roll at Atlanta Hartsfield airport, an Eastern Air Lines Boeing 727 collided with a Beechcraft King Air 100 that had landed just before it. The accident killed the pilot of the King Air, which was operated as a charter by Epps Air Service. FAA decertified the controller who cleared the Eastern flight to land. On Apr 2, 1991, the majority of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) cited the controller's error as the accident's probable cause, while dissenting member Jim Burnett blamed inadequate separation standards. On May 29, 1991, NTSB announced a revised finding expanding the probable cause to include the failure of air traffic control procedures to take into consideration occasional lapses in human performance. Chairman James Kolstad dissented, saying that use of existing procedures could have prevented the accident. “

This is yet another example of how fast things can go wrong in air traffic control -- on the ground. And despite the short and simple historical entry, the events that led up to the accident were lengthy and complicated. An aircraft experiencing an emergency was inbound to Atlanta Hartsfield (ATL). The airport emergency response vehicles had been alerted and were on station with their emergency lights flashing. It was dark and the emergency lights were distracting and confusing -- to the pilot of the King Air and the controllers.

The controllers at ATL were running the airplanes “tight.” In other words, they were using every trick in the book to be legal but the reality was that a much-faster jet was overtaking a turboprop. A different aircraft being worked by the controller was having radio communication problems that made for an additional distraction. As it turns out, a fatal distraction.

Don Brown
January 18, 2008

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