Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Works Every Time

It’s a funny (not funny-ha-ha) thing. If a Congressman gets involved in an aviation incident, it gets attention.

”The Federal Aviation Administration dispatched a safety review team to the Warrenton facility last month after a controller error resulted in a United Airlines flight narrowly missing a collision with a 22-seat Gulfstream business jet. One of the United passengers, Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), contacted the FAA..”

Rest assured Congressman, if you had been taken out on that one, you would be remembered a long time as the Congressman that changed air safety. Here, let me show you how it works, Congressman Sensenbrenner.

From the FAA Historical Chronology, 1926-1996

”May 6, 1935: A Transcontinental and Western Air (TWA) DC-2 crashed near Atlanta, Mo., killing five of the eight persons aboard. Senator Bronson M. Cutting (R-N.Mex.) was among the fatalities. A Bureau of Air Commerce report cited the accident’s causes as the U.S. Weather Bureau’s failure to predict hazardous weather and misjudgments by the pilot and TWA ground personnel. In June 1936, however, a committee chaired by Sen. Royal S. Copeland (D-N.Y.) issued a report alleging that the tragedy was caused by malfunctioning navigational aides and voicing other criticisms of the Bureau of Air Commerce. The controversy gave impetus to legislative efforts that eventuated in the Civil Aeronautics Act of 1938. (See Jun 23, 1938.) ”

Please note Congressman, that even with that high profile “push” it took three more years to get serious about aviation safety. I’d quote the entire history entry for the passage of the Civil Aeronautics Act of 1938 but it’s rather lengthy.

”To perform the quasi-legislative and quasi-judicial functions of safety and economic regulation, the law created a five-member entity designated the Civil Aeronautics Authority, the same term used to describe the agency as a whole. The law also established an Administrator of the Authority, who was independent of the five-member Authority and had responsibility for the executive and operational functions of the agency. Finally, an Air Safety Board of three members operated independently within the agency and had quasi-judicial powers for investigating accidents, determining their probable cause, and making recommendations for accident prevention.”

Where you can tell we really got serious as a nation was in the next history entry.

”Jun 30, 1938: During the fiscal year that ended this date, the Department of Commerce established teletype network Schedule B connecting airway traffic control centers with airway communication stations and with military airbases. By the end of the year this teletype network comprised approximately 10,000 miles of circuits. Prior to this time, the airway traffic control centers were served by only a party-
line telephone circuit connecting the center with the local airline radio ground stations, the control tower, and the Department of Commerce radio range stations. Control of airway traffic was limited to aircraft that
were in communication with the radio stations operating at the same location as the airway traffic control center.

Establishment of the Schedule B network permitted teletype transmission of flight data independently of the increasing load of weather data being transmitted on Schedule A circuits. It became apparent, however, that improved telephone communication was also needed for airway traffic control. By the end of fiscal 1940, the government had leased 1,760 miles of private-line telephone circuits connecting airway traffic control centers and other facilities. By 1942, there were 29,124 miles of these “interphone circuits” in operation. ”

And on and on it goes for 1938 and the next few years.

”Sep 27, 1938: The Civil Aeronautics Authority announced that President Roosevelt had approved its recommendation for the immediate construction of a close-in airport to serve the District of Columbia--the Washington National Airport... ”

”Dec 27, 1938: President Roosevelt announced an experimental Civilian Pilot Training Program...”

I can show you how all the same things happened in 1958 after all the mid-air collisions in the 1950s.

”Apr 21, 1958: An Air Force jet fighter collided with a United Air Lines DC-7 near Las Vegas, Nev., killing both occupants of the fighter and all 47 persons aboard the airliner. Another midair collision between a military jet and an airliner occurred on May 20 when a T-33 trainer and a Capital Airlines Viscount collided over Brunswick, Md. This second accident cost the lives of one of the two persons aboard the T-33 and all 11 aboard the Viscount. The twin tragedies spurred governmental action already underway to improve air traffic control and to establish a comprehensive Federal Aviation Agency. (See May 21 and May 28, 1958.) ”

(BTW, your fellow Congressman, James Oberstar, can quote you most of this stuff by heart. )

Did you notice the timing? In the middle of a Depression. They were building airports. And training pilots. I read too much Congressman. That’s how I came to read this just this morning.

”The Big Picture question really is why only a few of us appear to see the writing on the wall … that very soon, we’re again going to be short of qualified pilots not simply to teach people to fly, but with the commensurate skills to compete for professional pilot cockpit jobs coming down the road?”

Short of pilots. Short of airports. And we’re in a near-Depression. We don’t even have to reinvent the wheel, Congressman. We just need to get serious. Say...isn’t there an FAA Reauthorization Bill hanging around in Congress somewhere?

Any time you want to get serious about the National Airspace System, Congressman, you give me a call. I’ll help. I won’t even ask about that “(R)” that shows up next to your name all the time. Air safety is like that. It’s non-partisan.

Or you can wait for the next “big one”.

Don Brown
August 31, 2010


Paul said...

Congressman Oberstar is from Minnesota, not Wisconsin.

Don Brown said...

I knew that. What the heck was I thinking? Thanks.