FAA History: 1980

Tuesday, January 1, 1980:Effective this date, Administrator Langhorne Bond established the lead region concept under which designated Federal Aviation Administration regions assumed certain responsibilities on a nationwide basis. FAA assigned “lead regions” to perform national headquarters staff functions relative to various aspects of aircraft certification, while “certificating regions” held final certification authority for certain categories of aircraft, parts, or materials. The lead regions were: Central (for aircraft under 12,500 lbs.); Southwest (for rotorcraft); Great Lakes (for propellers); and New England (for engines). In addition, the agency designated New England as the first certificating region, with certification authority for all foreign engines as well as all domestically-manufactured turbojet engines of 15,000 lbs. thrust or greater. Later in 1980, two more of the original lead regions were designated certificating regions for their categories of special responsibility: Great Lakes, effective July 1, 1980; and Central, effective January 15, 1981. In addition, Northwest became the lead region for transport aircraft with gross takeoff weights of 12,500 pounds or more, as well as the certificating region for foreign transport aircraft and domestically-manufactured transports of 75,000 lb. or greater, effective November 1, 1980. (See November 1, 1981.)
Monday, January 7, 1980:John F. Leyden resigned as president of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Association (PATCO) after a bitter struggle for control of the organization with Robert E. Poli, a regional vice president. Both Poli and Leyden had submitted their resignations to the PATCO board, but the board accepted only Leyden’s resignation. Leyden resigned effective February 1, and Poli became interim president on that day. Poli subsequently was elected to a three-year term on April 24. (See May 4, 1979, and April 15, 1980.)
Monday, January 7, 1980:Effective this date, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established a new schedule for reducing air pollution from older transport aircraft using the JT3D jet engine (mostly DC-8s and Boeing 707s). The standards were to be applied according to a timetable that would involve the replacement of one-fourth of these engines by January 1, 1981; one-half by January 1, 1983; and all by January 1, 1985. This postponed earlier requirements (see July 6, 1973), but was designed to be more compatible with a similar timetable for noise standards (see December 23, 1976), thereby saving airlines the cost of two successive engine retrofittings on the same aircraft. Unlike the noise rule, the emissions standards applied to foreign-owned aircraft serving U.S. airports. On January 20, 1983, however, EPA published a rule eliminating the requirement that the remaining in-use JT3D engines be retrofitted to meet the standards. (See December 23, 1983.)
Monday, January 7, 1980:Pan American World Airways signed a merger agreement with National Airlines, which formally ceased to exist on October 26. (The defunct carrier’s name was revived on May 15, 1994, when Private Jet Expeditions began using the designation National Airlines.) The merger with National gave Pan American a long-sought domestic system to feed its international routes.
Friday, January 18, 1980:Two air traffic controllers allegedly erased flight data information on a Soviet Aeroflot jet making its final approach to New York Kennedy airport with Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin aboard. Unaware of the erasure, the controller who was handling the flight misidentified the Soviet aircraft and ordered it to make an early descent through unprotected airspace. The plane nevertheless landed safely. The incident reportedly stemmed from a local PATCO protest over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. After reviewing the case, FAA decided on January 16, 1981, to reprimand one of the controllers implicated in the data erasure and to suspend the other for 60 days.
Monday, January 21, 1980:FAA published a rule limiting the amount of ozone gas that might be present in airliners flying above 18,000 feet (see July 21, 1977). The agency restricted ozone concentration in the cabin to a maximum of 0.25 parts per million at any point in time. In addition, the average exposure on flights of more than four hours was to be no more than 0.1 parts per million. FAA left the airlines the choice of achieving these standards through air filters, use of engine heat to break down ozone, or selection of routes that avoided ozone concentrations. The agency expected, however, that about 500 large transport aircraft used at high altitudes in northern latitudes would require modification. The deadline for compliance was February 20, 1981. The same rule amended airworthiness standards for new transport aircraft to provide protection against ozone irritation.
Friday, January 25, 1980:Armed with a pistol and pretending to have a bomb, a hijacker who identified himself as a Black Muslim diverted a Delta Airlines L-1011 to Cuba. He demanded to be flown to Iran, but eventually surrendered to Cuban authorities. This was the first U.S. air carrier hijacking in which real weapons or high explosives passed through the passenger screening system since the implementation of strict new airport security measures on December 5, 1972 (see that date and July 22, 1980).
Friday, January 25, 1980:DOT announced the award of competitive contracts to three companies to design computer systems for automating FAA’s network of flight service stations (FSS). The winning design was expected to improve upon AWANS and MAPS, two systems already tested in use at certain FAA facilities (see September 1977). Computers were to be located at air route traffic control centers and linked by telephone lines to the FSS sites. (See June 1979 and April 2, 1980.)
Friday, February 15, 1980:FAA announced improved standards for the seats of airline crew members. The new rule required the flight attendant seats to be equipped with combination seat belts and safety harnesses, and that the seats themselves have energy-absorbing backs. The rule also required the seats of the cockpit crew to be equipped with a combination seat belt and shoulder harness so designed that the harness need not be unbuckled during takeoff or landing. The standards for flight attendant seats were effective on March 6, 1980, and those for the cockpit crew, a year later. The rule also upgraded certain other safety standards for large passenger aircraft concerning storage and service compartments, waste containers, and non-slip floors. (See September 10, 1980.)
Friday, February 15, 1980:Signed into law on this date, the International Air Transportation Competition Act of 1979 reduced the Civil Aeronautics Board’s power to regulate U.S. international airlines, while authorizing the Board to retaliate against the airlines of nations that discriminated against U.S. carriers. Other provisions: revised the rules governing Federal use of foreign air carriers; and defined circumstances under which foreign-registered aircraft might operate on U.S. domestic routes. As a result of the law, an FAA rule effective October 16 permitted U.S. airlines to fly passengers and mail in foreign-registered aircraft. The airlines were allowed to use such leased or chartered aircraft on both foreign and domestic flights. Section 29 of the law limited scheduled airline operations at Love Field, Dallas, Tex., to aircraft seating 56 passengers or less, except for service within Texas and states bordering on Texas. This provision was known as the “Wright Amendment” after Rep. James C. Wright, Jr. (D-Tex.) of Fort Worth.
Monday, February 18, 1980:President Carter signed the Aviation Safety and Noise Abatement Act of 1979. The law gave airlines more time to comply with Stage 2 aircraft noise standards insofar as they applied to two-engine jets over 75,000 lb (see December 23, 1976, and March 3, 1977). These two-engine aircraft had been required to comply by January 1, 1983, but that deadline was extended, with exceptions: until January 1, 1985, for those with over 100 seats; and until January 1, 1988, for those with 100 seats or fewer (see December 31, 1987). In other matters, the new legislation authorized funds for noise planning and land use compatibility projects (see February 28, 1981) and, in certain circumstances, barred suits for damages due to airport noise. The act also authorized the FAA to regulate the access to public areas at Washington National and Dulles International by individuals or groups soliciting funds or distributing materials. The law prohibited solicitors, including those representing religious groups, from interfering with airport users or using threatening or abusive language. FAA adopted rules, effective July 28, requiring solicitors at the two airports to have permits and placing certain limits on their number and the areas in which they could operate (see June 26, 1992).
Saturday, March 1, 1980:An FAA emergency rule on experience requirements for commuter airline pilots became effective. The pilot-in-command of a two-pilot crew was required to have logged between 10 and 25 hours of flight time in the particular aircraft make and model under the supervision of a qualified check pilot. The agency keyed the number of hours required to the complexity of the aircraft in question. Pilots of commuter aircraft approved for single-pilot operations with the aid of an autopilot were required to have 100 flight hours in the particular make and model of aircraft. FAA based its action on an analysis of 13 fatal commuter airline accidents that occurred during 1979.
Wednesday, March 5, 1980:FAA abolished the Office of Investigations and Security and transferred its internal security functions to the Office of Civil Aviation Security. Earlier, the fraud and abuse investigative functions of the Office of Investigations and Security had been transferred to the new Office of Inspector General, in the Office of the Secretary of Transportation.
Thursday, March 27, 1980:The Boeing Company revealed plans for flight decks accommodating two-member crews for the fuel-efficient new generation 757 and 767 twin-engine jets. The new decks would include an engine indicating and crew alerting system (EICAS) to centralize all engine displays and provide automatic monitoring of engine operation. (See May 7, 1977 and August 26, 1980.)
Wednesday, April 2, 1980:Administrator Bond announced a proposed revision to the master plan for automating the flight service stations (see January 1978). A feature of that plan had been the ultimate consolidation of the entire network of FSS sites into 20 automated stations co-located with air route traffic control centers (ARTCCs). Instead, Bond called for eventual consolidation into 61 automated stations. Although linked by telephone lines to computers at the air route traffic control centers, these sites would be housed in new buildings at airports that were centers of general aviation activity. Bond rejected the co-location of FSSs and ARTCCs (see September 1977), stating that this experiment had isolated flight service stations from general aviation pilots while showing no cost or operational advantages. (See January 25, 1980, and May 28, 1981.)
Tuesday, April 15, 1980:PATCO distributed to its members an “educational package” that many in FAA considered a “strike plan.” The materials provided: information on how to establish communications networks and committees on security, welfare, and picketing; recommendations for a variety of financial preparations in case of the loss of wages during a job action; and advice to local PATCO organizations to make arrangements for bail bondsman and for other legal services. (See January 7, 1980, and August 15, 1980.)
Wednesday, April 30, 1980:Effective this date, FAA required a triennial aircraft registration report. Aircraft certificate holders were to submit the report whenever three years elapsed since the Registry received information indicating continued registration eligibility. The procedure was less burdensome to the public than an earlier annual report requirement (see March 7, 1970).
Monday, May 12, 1980:Maxie and Kris Anderson, father and son, completed what is considered the first nonstop balloon crossing of the North American continent, after a four-day flight from Fort Baker, Calif. They landed at Matane, on Quebec’s Gaspe Peninsula, about 160 miles from the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Thursday, May 15, 1980:FAA established a terminal control area (TCA) at San Diego as part of the agency’s response to a midair collision that killed 144 persons (see March 1976). FAA established another TCA at Honolulu on November 27. These new Group II TCAs brought the total in this category to 14, in addition to 9 Group I TCAs at the nation’s busiest locations. (See August 1, 1975 and August 31, 1986.)
Friday, May 16, 1980:A U.S. district court decision put FAA’s medical exemption system on temporary hold by enjoining the agency from issuing medical certificates to airmen with a history of any of nine “absolutely disqualifying conditions,” including myocardial infarction, angina pectoris, or alcoholism. Henceforth, FAA could issue medical exemptions to airmen with a history of these disqualifying conditions only after “a proper finding that such an exemption was in the public interest.” In addition, the court enjoined the Federal Air Surgeon from placing any functional limitation on any medical certificate on the grounds that the authority to do this had not been properly delegated to this official from the FAA Administrator. The decision arose from a suit by Delta Airlines, which opposed FAA’s policy of issuing certificates with functional limitations to pilots who had suffered heart attacks. This practice often enabled such pilots to serve as flight engineers, and thus ran counter to Delta’s policy that flight engineers must possess a first class medical certificate. By mid-1982, FAA had adopted regulatory language for medical exemptions that satisfied the public-interest criteria of the court and allowed the process of granting pilot medical exemptions to continue.
Sunday, May 18, 1980:Washington State’s Mt. St. Helens erupted, destroying over 100 square miles of timber and leaving at least 61 persons dead or missing. Ash from the volcano caused widespread disruption, but did not close FAA facilities in the area. The agency informed airmen of the location of the volcanic cloud, which damaged several aircraft, and issued a maintenance checklist for planes that had entered suspected areas. FAA also set up a mobile air traffic control tower to assist military missions of reconnaissance, search, and rescue. Interest in the threat of volcanoes to aircraft increased in 1982, when two Boeing 747s lost all engine thrust temporarily as they encountered ash from an Indonesian volcano. (See December 14, 1989.)
Thursday, May 29, 1980:FAA changed the name of its National Aviation Facilities Experimental Center (NAFEC) to the FAA Technical Center, and at the same time dedicated a new complex of buildings at the New Jersey facility (see May 29, 1975). Under an agreement signed in 1976, the Atlantic City Improvement Authority had constructed the new complex for lease to FAA. On May 28, the agency had also dedicated a new heliport at the facility, and on June 20 dedicated the Center’s large new fire research building.
Thursday, June 26, 1980:The Committee on FAA Airworthiness Certification Procedures, popularly known as the Blue Ribbon Panel on Aircraft Certification, issued its report. The panel had been formed at the request of Secretary of Transportation Neil Goldschmidt in response to congressional concerns after the Chicago DC-10 accident (see May 25, 1979). The National Research Council selected a 13-person committee of experts, headed by George M. Low, president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and including among its members former FAA Administrator John L. McLucas. While concluding that the agency’s system of assuring the airworthiness of U.S.-built aircraft had worked satisfactorily in the past, the committee believed that FAA must upgrade its certification staff’s technical proficiency and familiarity with current developments. The panel’s recommendations included that FAA: establish a central engineering group responsible for type certification and participation in rulemaking; improve the type certification process through a series of milestone reviews; develop a rule requiring that aircraft be designed to continue to fly despite structural failure; increase surveillance of airline maintenance operations; and accelerate development of a system for gathering safety-related data.
Tuesday, July 22, 1980:Holding what was reported to be a small handgun to the back of a flight attendant, a man diverted a Delta Air Lines L-1011 to Cuba, beginning a series of hijackings by Cuban refugees who had arrived in the U.S. during the boat lift from the port of Mariel that began in April 1980 (see January 25, 1980). Mariel refugees returned to their homeland in 10 hijackings between August 10 and September 17. During the last quarter of 1980, however, no successful “Marielista” hijackings occurred. Factors in this improvement were special FAA security measures, coupled with the immediate return of two hijackers by the Cuban government. The phenomenon continued, however, and one successful Marielista hijacking took place in 1981. During 1982, three airliners were diverted to Cuba by Spanish-speaking men (at least one of whom was a Marielista) using flammable liquid as their weapon. The threat to ignite real or alleged flammable liquid had been used in every successful hijacking to Cuba since August 13, 1980. (See May 1, 1983.)
Monday, August 4, 1980:FAA commissioned the first En Route Automated Radar Tracking System (EARTS) at the air route traffic control center at Anchorage, Alaska. The system was the product of contracts with Sperry Rand’s Univac Division announced by FAA in July 1974 and August 1976 (See August 10, 1976). Developed for the special needs of the widely dispersed centers at Anchorage, Honolulu, and San Juan, EARTS was simpler and less costly than the automated systems used to track en route traffic at centers within the contiguous U.S. It was essentially an expanded Automated Radar Terminal System (ARTS III) modified for en route operations by adding a plan view display component. FAA commissioned Hawaii’s EARTS in July 1982 and Puerto Rico’s in December 1982. (See March 1984.)
Friday, August 15, 1980:PATCO-affiliated controllers at O’Hare International Airport conducted a one-day traffic slowdown that caused 616 delays of 30 minutes or more and cost air carriers more than $1 million in wasted fuel. The slowdown followed FAA’s turning down a demand by O’Hare controllers for an annual tax-free bonus of $7,500. (See April 15, 1980, and October 20, 1980.)
Tuesday, August 19, 1980:An in-flight fire on a Saudi Arabian Airlines L-1011 killed all 301 persons aboard. Smoke inside the aircraft prompted a return to Riyadh shortly after takeoff. The aircraft landed normally, but was destroyed by fire on the taxiway. Saudi investigators concluded that the fire probably began in the aft pressurized cargo compartment, but were unable to determine its cause. The accident was followed by development of improved liner material for L-1011 cargo compartments, and by FAA action to upgrade cargo compartment safety standards (see May 16, 1986).
Tuesday, August 26, 1980:FAA type-certificated the McDonnell Douglas DC-9-80 for operation with a two-pilot crew. The Air Line Pilots Association challenged the certification in a law suit, ultimately without success, and picketed the White House in October to protest FAA’s position. (See March 27, 1980, and December 29, 1980.)
Wednesday, September 10, 1980:The Special Aviation Fire and Explosion Reduction (SAFER) Advisory Committee (see June 26, 1978) released its final report. The committee reported that, over the past 15 years, fatalities due to post-crash fire or its effects in U.S. scheduled air carrier operations had averaged about 32 per year. It concluded that, with the exception of toxic hazards assessment, aircraft fire research had been reasonably well funded since the early- to mid-1970s. The SAFER group’s most urgent recommendation was to expedite the investigation and validation of anti-misting kerosene, known as AMK (see December 1, 1984). Among the numerous additional recommendations were: mandatory fuel tank vent protection; maximizing the probability of engine fuel shut-off in potential fire situations; research on lowering the flashpoint of kerosene fuels; improved accident investigation and reporting; research to establish the contribution of cabin interior materials to the post-crash fire hazard; development of fire-blocking layers for seats; accelerated toxicity research; radiant heat resistance standards for evacuation slides; and development of improved fire-resistant cabin windows. In conclusion, the committee’s report urged FAA to create a standing advisory committee to provide regular expert advice in the field of fire and explosion research. FAA set up working groups to examine the SAFER recommendations and take rulemaking action when feasible. (See October 26, 1984.)
Tuesday, September 30, 1980:The Airport Development Aid Program lapsed as of midnight on this date due to Congress’ failure to extend or replace legislative authorization (see July 12, 1976). Congress also failed to authorize the collection of user taxes paid into the Airport and Airway Trust Fund. As a result, some of these taxes expired, while others were reduced to the levels collected before July 1, 1970. Taxes eliminated completely included the 5 percent air cargo tax, the $3 international departure fee, the aircraft use tax, and the jet fuel tax. The 8 percent passenger ticket tax was reduced to 5 percent, and was now paid into the Treasury’s general fund. The general aviation gasoline tax was reduced from seven to four cents per gallon, and was paid into the Highway Trust Fund, which also received revenues from continuing taxes on aircraft tires and tubes. Although it no longer received any tax revenues, the Airport and Airway Trust Fund continued to exist and to receive interest payments on the Treasury bills in which its liquid assets were invested. While FAA ceased to award grants from the Fund, the agency continued to liquidate obligations previously made under the grant program. The Trust Fund also continued to provide support for FAA facilities and equipment, as well as for the agency’s research, development, and engineering. (See August 13, 1981.)
Thursday, October 2, 1980:Recognizing the changing nature of airline operations under deregulation, the Civil Aeronautics Board adopted a report that led to new system of classifying air carriers for statistical and financial analysis. The carriers were described as either Majors, Nationals, Large Regionals, or Medium Regionals, depending on the amount of their annual operating revenue. After CAB became defunct at the end of 1984, the Research and Special Projects Administration continued this general system, although the amounts of revenue required for the various categories were periodically adjusted.
Thursday, October 9, 1980:FAA published a new Federal Aviation Regulations Part 125, representing a substantial upgrade of safety standards for certain large airplanes. The new Part 125 established a uniform set of certification and operating rules for large airplanes capable of carrying 20 passengers or more, or a payload of 6,000 lbs. or more, and used for any purpose other than common carriage.
Monday, October 20, 1980:Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan wrote to PATCO president Robert E. Poli, saying: “You can rest assured that if I am elected President, I will take whatever steps are necessary to provide our air traffic controllers with the most modern equipment available and to adjust staff levels and work days so that they are commensurate with achieving a maximum degree of public safety.” On October 23, the PATCO executive board endorsed Reagan for President. At the same time, the union charged President Carter with ignoring serious safety problems that jeopardized the nation’s air traffic control system. (See August 15, 1980, and December 15, 1980.)
Monday, November 3, 1980:FAA published a special rule allocating reservations, or “slots,” for takeoffs and landings under instrument flight rules at Washington National Airport. The rule applied to air carriers, except air taxis, and was effective December 1, 1980, to April 26, 1981. The slots had previously been assigned by an air carrier scheduling committee, the system used at the other high density airports subject to flight restrictions in force since June 1, 1969 (see that date). Since the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, however, the number of carriers seeking slots at National had increased and the committee found it more difficult to reach agreement. On October 14, 1980, the body advised FAA it was deadlocked, necessitating government intervention. (See March 23, 1978, and December 6, 1981.)
Friday, November 28, 1980:FAA published a rule requiring foreign operators of aircraft over 75,000 lb. serving the U.S. to comply with the same noise standards as U.S. operators (see December 23, 1976). The rule generally required final compliance by 1985.
Monday, December 15, 1980:A U.S. District Court judge in Illinois, dismissed a court action brought by FAA against PATCO and its Chicago O’Hare Local No. 316 for a slowdown which had begun on August 15, 1980 (see that date). On August 17, FAA had brought suit for a preliminary and permanent injunction against the controllers. The following day, a U.S. District Court judge had issued a temporary restraining order prohibiting PATCO and its O’Hare affiliate from taking part “in any work stoppage or slowdown.” Subsequently, FAA pressed its plea for permanent injunctive relief. In ruling that the case was not properly before his court, the judge held that a slowdown was an unfair labor practice and that Title VII of the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 gave original jurisdiction in such controversies to the Federal Labor Relations Authority, not to U.S. district courts. (See March 15, 1981.)
Friday, December 19, 1980:New York Air began operations, competing against Eastern Air Lines’ Washington-New York shuttle. The new, non-union regional carrier was a creation of Texas Air, a holding company created by Frank Lorenzo in 1980. Texas Air also owned Texas International Airlines, which Lorenzo had headed since 1972. (See August 6, 1981, and February 1, 1987.)
Monday, December 22, 1980:FAA placed the Office of Aviation Medicine under the executive direction of the Associate Administrator for Aviation Standards. Although no longer reporting directly to the Administrator, the Federal Air Surgeon retained delegated responsibilities for medical determinations.
Monday, December 29, 1980:The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) organized a “public awareness” campaign called Operation USA (Unity for Safe Airtravel). Shortly thereafter, the union threatened a general one-day work stoppage in March unless the President appointed a panel of independent experts to examine the question of crew complement. On March 5, 1981, President Reagan appointed a three-man task force headed by former FAA Administrator John L. McLucas to review FAA’s certification of the DC-9-80 for operation with a minimum cockpit crew of two pilots (see August 26, 1980). On July 2, the task force reported that the certification was proper and that a third crew member was not be justified in the interest of safety. The board also noted that safe operation by a two-pilot crew would be permitted by the designs of Boeing’s new 757 and 767 aircraft, and of the A-310 aircraft being developed by the European consortium, Airbus Industrie. On July 14, ALPA’s executive board voted unanimously to accept the findings of the task force.
Wednesday, December 31, 1980:The end of this day marked the completion of the first calendar year without a fatal accident for major U.S. airlines (Part 121) in scheduled service, including the flag, trunk, and local service categories. The only fatal accident involving Part 121 operators engaged in any type of service was an incident in which a parachutist was struck by a military contract cargo flight. (See December 31, 1970, and December 31, 1981.)
Primary Sources:
Dated items along the left margin of the FAA History Pages were compiled from the series of FAA’s ‘Historical Chronology’ PDF files. For a list and links to uploaded copies of these PDF files, see aiReform’s ‘FAA History’ main page (link above).
Additional content has been compiled from Wikipedia and other sources; these items are presented along the right margin, and include significant accidents, Whistleblower case actions, various news items, ATC technology developments, links to related material, comments, etc. Further content will be added at a later date.