FAA History: 1981

Saturday, January 10, 1981:The New York terminal radar control room (TRACON) became operational at Hempstead, Long Island. The building had been completed in January 1978, after which the Federal Aviation Administration had begun installing electronic equipment. Commissioning of the facility had been delayed, however, until the closing of a nearby resource recovery plant ended FAA’s concern about unhealthful emissions. The TRACON replaced the Common Radar Room (also called the “Common IFR” or “Common I”) at Kennedy International. Initially, the new facility handled approaches and departures at New York’s three major airports, but was scheduled to later take over responsibility for numerous smaller airports in area. The TRACON’s special ARTS IIIA system had 44 displays, 91 keyboard stations, and a track capacity of 1,200 aircraft (see August 10, 1976, and March 26, 1986). In contrast, the Common Radar Room’s ARTS IA had only 12 displays.
Monday, January 19, 1981:FAA announced that it had begun a program to improve navigational charts used by pilots flying under visual flight rules. The improvements were based on recommendations of an agency working group established in September 1980, and were to be implemented in cooperation with the Inter-Agency Cartographic Committee.
Tuesday, January 20, 1981:Ronald Reagan became President, succeeding Jimmy Carter. The resignations of Langhorne M. Bond as FAA Administrator and Quentin S. Taylor as Deputy Administrator became effective, although Taylor accepted another post with FAA (see May 4, 1977). Charles E. Weithoner, Associate Administrator for Administration, became Acting Administrator. (See April 22, 1981.)
Friday, January 23, 1981:Drew Lewis became Secretary of Transportation, succeeding Neil E. Goldschmidt with the change of administrations. President Reagan had nominated Lewis on December 11, 1980, and the Senate had confirmed the nomination on January 22, 1981. A business management specialist from Philadelphia, Lewis first came to national attention in 1974, when he made an unsuccessful run for governor of Pennsylvania. He had served as Deputy Chairman of the Republican National Committee prior to accepting the Transportation cabinet post. (See December 28, 1982.)
Friday, January 30, 1981:FAA announced the adoption of new security rules making commuter aircraft with a seating capacity of 60 or more passengers subject to the same anti-hijacking programs as the aircraft of larger airlines.
Monday, February 2, 1981:FAA commissioned the first Direct Access Radar Channel (DARC) at the Salt Lake City air route traffic control center. By June 28, when FAA commissioned DARC at the Minneapolis ARTCC, all 20 en route centers within the contiguous 48 states had been equipped with the system (see April 5, 1988) As a result of development begun in the late 1970s, the Raytheon Company produced DARC as a backup system to be switched on when the primary radar processing system failed or was turned off for maintenance. DARC provided a sharper display than the noncomputerized broadband backup system that it replaced. Whereas the broadband system had presented only an unmarked “blip” for each radar target, DARC provided a limited data bloc that gave a discrete code for each aircraft equipped with a discrete beacon code transponder, as well as the altitude of those equipped with an altitude-encoding transponder. The discrete code helped controllers to identify quickly the targets when changeover from the primary system occurred. Initially, however, controllers using DARC were still obliged to keep track of targets by moving plastic markers across the radar display, and hence were required to shift their scopes to a horizontal position. In February 1984, therefore, FAA began installing RAH01 software that made it possible for DARC to provide full data blocks that remained on the display between radar scans even if the radar missed the target. Meanwhile, the agency awaited delivery of a 1982 order for a more advanced hardware and software enhancement designated E-DARC. As compared to RAH01, E-DARC’s advantages included predicted position tracking and the capability to present composite displays using returns from several radar sites. E-DARC also allowed an individual controller to switch back and forth between primary and backup systems at the touch of a button, and permitted non-verbal handoffs of aircraft between sectors within a center. FAA commissioned the first E-DARC system at the Seattle center on November 26, 1986.
Saturday, February 28, 1981:Effective this date, a new Part 150 of the Federal Aviation Regulations established requirements and procedures for airport operators participating in a voluntary noise compatibility planning program as authorized by the Aviation Safety and Noise Abatement Act (see February 18, 1980). The new regulations provided standardized methods for measuring noise, identified land uses compatible with various noise levels, and set forth criteria for FAA approval of the plans.
Sunday, March 15, 1981:The labor contract between FAA and PATCO expired. In accordance with Article 75 of the agreement, however, all its provisions but one (immunity under the aviation safety reporting program) remained in force until a new agreement was reached. (See December 15, 1980, and April 28, 1981.)
Sunday, April 12, 1981:The United States launched space shuttle Columbia on the first shuttle orbital flight.
Wednesday, April 22, 1981:J. Lynn Helms became the eighth FAA Administrator, succeeding Langhorne M. Bond (see May 4, 1977). President Reagan had made the nomination on March 3, and the Senate confirmed it on April 8. Born in 1925 in DeQueen, Ark., Helms attended the University of Oklahoma. He received his flight training as part of the U.S. Navy’s V-5 program during World War II, then entered the Marine Corps to serve as both a test pilot and instructor pilot. After leaving the Marine Corps with the rank of Lt. Colonel in 1956, he went to work as a design engineer for North American Aviation. In 1963, he joined the Bendix Corp., eventually becoming vice president, then accepted the presidency of the Norden Division of United Aircraft in 1970. He joined Piper Aircraft Corp. in 1974, serving as president, chairman, and chief executive officer before retiring from the company in 1980. Helms was an active pilot holding a commercial pilot’s certificate. His honors included selection as General Aviation Man of the Year for 1978, and he had been chairman of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association in 1979. Helms served as FAA Administrator for two years and nine months. (See December 23, 1983.)
Tuesday, April 28, 1981:After 37 negotiating sessions with FAA, PATCO representatives walked out of the contract talks, claiming that the agency was not responsive to their proposals. PATCO had submitted its bargaining proposals to FAA in early January 1981, and negotiations had begun the following month. PATCO’s proposals for a 32-hour work week and separate pay scale for controllers, embodied in legislation before Congress, were opposed by the Office of Management and Budget. (See March 15, 1981, and May 23, 1981.)
Wednesday, May 6, 1981:FAA issued an Advisory Circular concerning the new Supplemental Structural Inspection Program (SSIP) under which manufacturers developed special programs to ensure the continued airworthiness of their older types of large transport aircraft. The background of the SSIP included the 1977 loss of a British 707 in Zambia due to structural failure. Continued concern about the airworthiness of aging aircraft reflected a tendency for operators to retain older planes for longer periods. This trend was due to such factors as a slackened demand for the fuel-efficiency offered by new aircraft and the competitive pressures of airline deregulation. Effective July 5, 1985, FAA made the inspections developed under SSIP mandatory for certain Boeing 707s with high in-service time. Similar directives for other aircraft types soon followed. (See April 28, 1988.)
Saturday, May 23, 1981:At its annual convention, in New Orleans, PATCO set a June 21 deadline for reaching agreement on a new contract with FAA. PATCO President Robert Poli said if agreement was not reached by that date the union would poll its members for a strike vote. Newspapers quoted Poli as vowing that the “the skies will be silent” if FAA’s negotiators did not “come to their senses.” (See April 28, 1981, and June 18, 1981.)
Tuesday, May 26, 1981:FAA banned any new long-haul airline flights to or from Washington National Airport pending issuance by the Department of Transportation of a new Metropolitan Washington Airports Policy. The ban preserved a policy, begun in 1966 and continued voluntarily, under which nonstop flights to and from National were limited to a perimeter with a 650-mile radius, with certain exceptions. FAA acted to preserve National’s traditional role as a short-haul airport in the face of a decision by three carriers–American, Pan Am, and Braniff–to inaugurate nonstop flights into National from Houston and Dallas, each of which would have exceeded 1,000 miles. (See September 1, 1966, and December 6, 1981.)
Thursday, May 28, 1981:At a meeting on this date, Administrator Helms directed a change in policy on acquisition of space for the planned Automated Flight Service Stations, known as AFSSs (see April 2, 1980). In addition to building and owning the facilities, FAA would also lease space at airports from municipalities, airport operators, private parties, or government agencies at the state or Federal level. FAA would seek competitive bids to obtain the most favorable rates. (See October 2, 1981, and November 1982.)
Friday, June 12, 1981:FAA announced a planned regional consolidation, to be effective July 1, that would reduce the number of regional headquarters from eleven to six (see April 2, 1971). The headquarters at New York, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, and Honolulu would be phased out, and their functions merged with the remaining sites. Boston would take over the functions of New York, and Kansas City would assume those of Chicago. Seattle would take over the functions of Denver, Los Angeles, and Honolulu. The regional offices at Anchorage, Atlanta, and Fort Worth would remain essentially unchanged. The plan aroused political opposition, and FAA agreed to review the decision. (See September 4, 1981.)
Wednesday, June 17, 1981:PATCO rejected a Reagan Administration contract proposal as inadequate and broke off informal talks with representatives of FAA. The informal talks, conducted irregularly since the break in formal talks on April 28, were held under the aegis of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. (See June 18, 1981, and June 22, 1981.)
Thursday, June 18, 1981:The U.S. District Court rejected a PATCO motion to vacate the injunction restraining the union from engaging in illegal job actions or strikes (see June 21, 1978). PATCO moved to have the injunction lifted on the grounds that it had been superceded by the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, which gave the Federal Labor Relations Authority original jurisdiction in Federal labor-management disputes. (See May 23, 1981, and June 17, 1981.)
Monday, June 22, 1981:Department of Transportation and PATCO representatives reached agreement on a tentative new contract after a marathon bargaining session, thus averting a threatened nationwide strike by PATCO-affiliated controllers that had been scheduled to begin at 7 a.m., Monday, June 22. Secretary of Transportation Drew Lewis and PATCO President Robert Poli had gone back to the bargaining table Friday evening, June 19, at the behest of Representative James J. Howard (D-N.J.), chairman of the House Public Works Committee. The resumption of talks may also have been prompted by a letter to Poli from 36 U.S. Senators, stating that a strike by PATCO “will do nothing to further your goals of increased pay and changes in working conditions.” The bargaining sessions, which took place at the offices of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service and were joined in by Federal mediator Kenneth Moffett, lasted more than 25 hours, with the last session running past 3 a.m., Monday. The agreement contained four key provisions, which the Reagan Administration agreed to recommend to Congress:
  • A “responsibility” differential that would give controllers 42 hours pay for each normal 40-hour week worked.
  • An increase in the night differential from 10 to 15 percent of base pay.
  • The exclusion of overtime, night differential, and Sunday and holiday pay from the limitations of the Federal pay cap.
  • A retraining allowance equivalent to 14 weeks of base pay for controllers who became medically disqualified after five consecutive years of service at the journeyman level or above and who were ineligible for retirement or disability compensation.
  • The first-year cost of the total package, which included a cost-of-living raise of 4.8 percent due Federal civil service employees in October, came to approximately $40 million or, on the average, $4,000 per controller per year. PATCO had been seeking a package that would have cost the government, initially, in excess of $700 million per year. (See June 17, 1981, and July 2, 1981.)
Tuesday, June 23, 1981:Administrator Helms announced FAA’s decision to adopt the Threat Alert and Collision Avoidance System, soon renamed the Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System (TCAS). The TCAS system was an evolutionary improvement of the Beacon Collision Avoidance System (BCAS) that the agency had been developing (see March 1976). Like BCAS, TCAS would work in conjunction with the Air Traffic Control Radar Beacon System (ATCRBS) transponder already in wide use. It would also be compatible with the next-generation transponder, originally designated the Discrete Address Beacon System (DABS) and later known as Mode S (see December 27, 1978, and October 5, 1984).
Two types of the new collision avoidance system were planned. TCAS I, intended for general aviation use, would in its basic form simply alert the pilot to the proximity of another aircraft carrying TCAS I or a conventional ATCRBS transponder. More expensive TCAS I versions would have some ability to provide certain data on the altitude and/or “o’clock” position of threat aircraft. TCAS II would provide more sophisticated advisories, including data on range and bearing of transponder-equipped aircraft. When the transponder aboard the threat aircraft had altitude-reporting capability, TCAS II’s advisories would also include altitude data. In the case of two aircraft equipped with TCAS II, coordinated advisories would be provided. TCAS II would suggest vertical escape maneuvers. If feasible, the system might be enhanced to include both vertical and horizontal escape maneuvers, a version later designated TCAS III. TCAS was expected to overcome a fundamental limitation of BCAS by its ability to operate effectively even in the highest air traffic densities. This modified the need for a new ground-based collision avoidance system, and led to discontinuance of the Automatic Traffic Advisory and Resolution System (ATARS) project, originally known as Intermittent Positive Control (see March 4, 1976).
On November 13, 1981, FAA announced a contract with Bendix Corporation to provide two TCAS II engineering models to be tested and then enhanced to advise pilots of horizontal escape maneuvers. (See March 18, 1987.)
Thursday, July 2, 1981:PATCO’s nine-member executive board recommended unanimously that the union’s members reject the tentative contract agreed to on June 22 by PATCO President Robert Poli and Secretary of Transportation Drew Lewis. Poli also voted to reject the contract, although he had stated that he was pleased with the settlement at the time of its negotiation. On July 29, PATCO announced that its members rejected the tentative contract by a vote of 13,495 to 616. Two days later, on July 31, PATCO President Robert Poli announced at a press conference in Washington that his union would go on a nationwide strike beginning on Monday, August 3, unless the government met PATCO’s demands. (See June 22, 1981, and August 3, 1981.)
Thursday, July 30, 1981:In San Diego Unified Port District v. Gianturco, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit struck down an attempt by the State of California to impose more stringent noise rules at Lindbergh Field than those imposed by Lindbergh’s proprietor. The court’s decision included a rationale for the “Burbank exception” (see May 14, 1973). Noting that the U.S. Supreme Court had held in Griggs v. Allegheny that airport proprietors can be held liable for the noise produced by aircraft using their facilities (see March 5, 1962), the Court observed that “fairness dictates that they must also have power to insulate themselves from that liability.” At the same time, the Court set forth criteria that determine airport proprietorship, including “ownership, operation, promotion, and the ability to acquire necessary approach easements.” If a local or state entity possessed these characteristics, then it also possessed power to regulate noise. In the case of Lindbergh Field, however, the State of California did not possess these characteristics, having entrusted them to the San Diego Unified Port District.
On September 23, 1981, in Santa Monica Airport Association v. City of Santa Monica, the same Court reaffirmed the “Burbank exception” by upholding aircraft-noise abatement ordinances and a night curfew on takeoffs and landings imposed by the City of Santa Monica, which owned and operated the local airport. In reaching this decision, the Court again emphasized that “municipal airport owners needed some means of limiting their liability under Griggs.” The Court did strike down, however, a categorical ban on all jet aircraft as violating the Commerce and Equal Protection clauses of the Constitution. (See August 24, 1983.)
Saturday, August 1, 1981:Michael J. Fenello became FAA’s Deputy Administrator, succeeding Quentin S. Taylor (see May 4, 1977). A native of Rochester, N.Y., Fenello was a graduate of Buffalo State Teachers College and held a Master’s degree in Administration and Supervision from New York University. He was a junior high school teacher before starting a 38-year career with Eastern Air Lines in January 1943. Fenello began as a copilot, rose to captain, and later served as a flight instructor and supervisor of flying before being promoted in 1963 to Assistant Operations Manager in New York. The following year, he was named Director of Administration for Flight Operations, with headquarters in Miami. In 1968, Fenello became Assistant to the Vice President, Operations Group, and in 1972 was promoted to Vice President, Operations Control. From 1976 until his retirement from Eastern in February 1981, he served as Vice President for System Operations and Safety. Fenello was FAA’s Deputy Administrator for two years and 9 months, resigning effective May 1, 1984. (See December 23, 1983, and December 13, 1984.)
Monday, August 3, 1981:Nearly 12,300 members of the 15,000-member Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) went on strike, beginning at 7 a.m., EST, grounding approximately 35 percent of the nation’s 14,200 daily commercial flights. The controllers struck after the failure of eleventh hour negotiations, which began 2 p.m. Sunday, August 2, and continued, with one break, past 2 a.m. Monday, August 3. Shortly before 11 a.m. on August 3, at an impromptu news conference, President Reagan issued the strikers a firm ultimatum: return to work within 48 hours or face permanent dismissal. The government moved swiftly on three fronts — civil, criminal, and administrative — to bring the full force of the law to bear on the strikers. In a series of legal steps, Federal officials:
  • Asked the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) to decertify PATCO as the bargaining agent for the 17,200 controllers and controller staff members.
  • Moved to impound the union’s $3.5 million strike fund.
  • Filed criminal complaints in Federal courts in eleven cities against twenty-two PATCO officials.
  • Sought restraining orders against the strikers in thirty-three courts.
  • Even before the 7 a.m. walkout, a U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia signed an order directing the controllers to return to work. Late in the evening on August 3, another judge of the same court found the union in contempt for failing to obey the first order and imposed an accelerating schedule of fines totaling $4.7 million if the controllers failed to report to work ($250,000 for Tuesday, August 4; $500,000 for Wednesday; $1 million a day for the next four days). That judge also fined PATCO President Robert Poli $1,000 a day for each day the strike continued, through Sunday, August 9. Approximately 875 controllers returned to work during the 48 hour grace period granted. After expiration of the grace period, about 11,400 controllers were dismissed. Most of those fired appealed the action, and 440 were eventually reinstated as a result of their appeals.
  • The strike and dismissals drastically curtailed FAA’s controller workforce. According to DOT’s FY1982 annual report, the firings reduced the number of controllers at the full performance or developmental level from about 16,375 to about 4,200. To keep the airways open, approximately 3,000 ATC supervisory personnel worked at controlling traffic. FAA assigned assistants to support the controllers, and accelerated the hiring and training of new air traffic personnel. Military controllers arrived at FAA facilities soon after the strike began, and about 800 were ultimately assigned to the agency. The combined force was sufficiently large to handle traffic without activating the National Air Traffic Control Contingency Plan, which called for FAA itself to establish rigid, severely curtailed airline schedules and to prescribe routes and altitudes.
  • The day the strike began, FAA adopted Special Federal Aviation Regulation (SFAR) 44, establishing provisions for implementing an interim air traffic control operations plan (see February 18, 1982). That plan allowed FAA, among others things, to limit the number of aircraft in the national airspace system. Hence, on August 5, the agency implemented a plan dubbed “Flow Control 50,” whereby air carriers were required to cancel approximately 50 percent of their scheduled peak-hour flights at 22 major airports. FAA maintained an en route horizontal spacing between aircraft under instrument flight rules of up to 30 miles. Aircraft were kept on the ground, as necessary, to maintain this spacing. FAA gave priority to medical emergency flights, Presidential flights, flights transporting critical FAA employees, and flights dictated by military necessity. General aviation flights operated under the severest restrictions. Aircraft with a gross takeoff weight of 12,500 pounds or less were prohibited from flying under instrument flight rules; moreover, aircraft flying under visual flight rules were prohibited from entering terminal control areas. Other general aviation aircraft were served, as conditions permitted, on a first-come-first-served basis. (See July 2, 1981, and September 4, 1981.)
Thursday, August 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 consummated in October 1981. A year later, Lorenzo merged Texas International’s operations into those of the much larger Continental. (See September 24, 1983)
Thursday, August 13, 1981:President Reagan signed the Fiscal Year 1981 Airport Development Authorization Act (Title XI of P.L. 97-35) which briefly renewed the Airport Development Aid Program. The law authorized $450 million in grants from the Airport and Airway Trust Fund for airport development, planning, and noise compatibility projects during fiscal 1981. It also specified that at least $25 million be used for noise compatibility grants, and forbade future authorization in excess of $600 million for fiscal 1982. FAA had only until the end of September 30, 1981, to allocate the $450 million, plus another $9 million resulting from adjustments to prior year’s grants. The agency approved 622 new grants and 181 amendments to previous grants, for a total of $450.4 million. FAA was unable to allocate the whole amount because one airport sponsor did not use all the money specifically set aside for it in the legislation. (See September 3, 1982).
Friday, September 4, 1981:FAA announced a revised regional consolidation plan under which the number of regions would be reduced from eleven to nine. The original plan would have resulted in only six regions (see June 12, 1981), but FAA stated that this had been modified due to the more pressing need to rebuild the air traffic control system in the wake of the PATCO controllers strike (see August 3, 1981). The consolidation was detailed in a notice issued on September 29. Under the new plan, FAA combined the existing Pacific-Asia and Western Regions into a new Western-Pacific Region with headquarters in Los Angeles, and closed the Honolulu regional office. The agency also combined the existing Rocky Mountain and Northwest Regions into a new Northwest Mountain Region with headquarters in Seattle, and closed the Denver regional office. It also reassigned the states of North and South Dakota from the Rocky Mountain to the Great Lakes Region. Operations under the new concept began on October 1, and all physical relocation was scheduled for completion by the end of August 1982.
Friday, September 4, 1981:FAA announced it would hire approximately 1,500 temporary employees, including furloughed airline pilots, to assist in replacing air traffic controllers fired for striking. The temporary employees would not control traffic, but would perform duties related to flight strip distribution and other controller support functions. (See August 3, 1981, and October 2, 1981.)
Friday, September 11, 1981:Federal Aviation Regulation Part 108, a new rule on airline security, went into effect. The regulation levied airline security requirements according to the perceived threat facing different types of operations and sizes of aircraft, and established security safeguards appropriate to the various types of commercial passenger operations. Also on this date, FAA approved a new concept allowing airport operators to position law enforcement officers farther from passenger screening checkpoints provided certain conditions were fulfilled (see March 29, 1979).
Saturday, September 26, 1981:The twin-engine Boeing 767 made its first flight. On July 30, 1982, FAA certificated the aircraft, the first entirely new U.S. commercial transport design in more than a decade. The 767 began its first revenue service on September 8 of that year with United Air Lines. On July 14, 1978, United Airlines had placed the largest order to date for a single commercial airplane, when it made a $1.2 billion order for the airliner.
Wednesday, September 30, 1981:During fiscal year 1981, which ended on this date, FAA added two major new capabilities to the en route air traffic control system: minimum safe altitude warning (MSAW), already a feature of the ARTS III terminal system (see October 28, 1977); and arrival metering, a function that provided the controller with computer advisories to help in managing the flow of traffic into congested terminal areas.
Friday, October 2, 1981:FAA announced the award of two contracts to E-Systems for computer systems for 61 automated flight service stations (AFSS). The agency planned that the existing network of over 300 stations would eventually be consolidated into the 61 automated facilities. The equipment to be produced by E-Systems would provide flight service specialists with rapid retrieval of data needed to brief pilots, presenting the information on television-like displays. Production was to be in two stages. Model 1, with capability of displaying weather and aeronautical alphanumeric data, would be implemented at 41 sites. Later, all 61 sites would get Model 2, which would add a second display for weather radar, charts, and other graphics. Model 2 would also include the capability for demonstrating direct access by pilots to the computer data base from remote computer terminals. The computers for both models were to be installed at air route traffic control centers and connected by leased telephone lines to the flight service stations. (See May 28, 1981, and November 1982.)
Friday, October 2, 1981:FAA announced a $10 million contract with the University of Oklahoma to help train new air traffic controllers to replace those fired for participating in the illegal strike. The University would provide FAA-certificated instructors as supplemental staffing for the FAA Academy. The agreement proved to be the first in a series of controller training contracts with the University. (See September 4, 1981, and October 22, 1981.)
Tuesday, October 6, 1981:Blanche W. Noyes died. One of the nation’s early female pilots, she was probably the first woman pilot to have a career in the U.S. government. Noyes was known for her work in the air marking program during 35 years with FAA and its predecessors. She participated in many aviation events and races, winning the 1936 Bendix Air Race, was a founder of the Ninety-Nines, Inc., an organization established to encourage women in aviation. Her many awards included the Department of Commerce’s gold medal for exceptional service in 1956, and induction into the Aviation Hall of Fame in 1970.
Monday, October 19, 1981:FAA placed a General Aviation Reservation (GAR) plan in effect, because the number of private aircraft flying in the system increased substantially after the controllers’ strike. General aviation pilots who wished to fly under air traffic control were required to make reservations under a quota based on the percentage of flights that aircraft in their category had flown prior to the PATCO strike of August 3, 1981 (see that date). The restriction became necessary as non-airline pilots, some of whom had refrained from using the air traffic control system at the strike’s beginning, began to increase operations. After two weeks under the GAR plan, FAA announced that the number of private aircraft flying in the system had been reduced to approximately the pre-strike level, and that the plan had helped to cut delays for both airline and private flights. (See December 31, 1983.)
Thursday, October 22, 1981:The Federal Labor Relations Authority decertified the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Association, depriving the union of the right to represent its members. Following a temporary stay by a Federal Appeals Court, the decertification became effective on October 27. (See October 2, 1981, and December 31, 1981.)
Sunday, November 1, 1981:Effective this date, Administrator Helms designated four aircraft certification directorates. The directorates assumed the certification responsibilities previously assigned to the lead and certificating regions under the lead region concept (see January 1, 1980). They also received additional responsibilities to strengthen and streamline the certification process. The directorates were managed by the directors of the following regions: Central (for aircraft under 12,500 lbs.); Northwest Mountain (for transport aircraft); Southwest (for rotorcraft); and New England (for engines and propellers). The authority of the directorates extended beyond regional boundaries. For example, aircraft certification offices in the Central, Southern, and Great Lakes regions reported directly to the Small Airplane Certification Directorate at the Central Region headquarters. FAA formally established the directorates by an order dated February 1, 1982, and on March 9 issued a news release stating that the directorate system had become operational.
Monday, November 2, 1981:Effective this date, FAA reestablished 12 inches as the required height for registration marks (N-numbers) on fixed-wing aircraft. This size requirement had originally been established by a rule published on January 6, 1961. In 1977, however, the size of the N-numbers was reduced to 3 inches for small airplanes with speeds not greater than 180 knots. The agency permitted this reduction in response to the Experimental Aircraft Association’s concern to improve the aesthetic appearance of small aircraft. FAA reestablished the 12 inch height after complaints from citizens, law enforcement agencies, and the Defense Department demonstrated that timely and positive visual identification was compromised by the smaller markings. To avoid undue cost, however, FAA allowed owners of existing and certain newly-manufactured aircraft to display the smaller N-numbers until the aircraft was repainted or its marks were restored, repainted, or changed. The new requirement for 12 inch numbers did not affect existing rules on special marking procedures for certain aircraft that were amateur-built, unusually configured, over 30 years old, or operated for exhibition.
Monday, November 9, 1981:Ben L. Abruzzo, Larry Newman, Ron Clark, and Rocky Aoki made the first balloon crossing of the Pacific, a trip from Nagashima, Japan, to near Covelo, Calif., in Double Eagel V.
Friday, November 20, 1981:Effective this date, FAA permitted blind airline passengers to use certain approved methods of storing their canes at their seats. The agency had declined to permit this in an earlier rule (see May 16, 1977), deciding instead that the long utility canes should be handed over to flight attendants to be secured during takeoff and landing. This policy aroused considerable opposition, particularly from the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). The NFB petitioned FAA on the issue, and filed suit when the petition was denied. Meanwhile, more than 100 blind persons and their supporters picketed FAA’s national headquarters on July 5, 1978, to protest the cane policy. In January 1979, a U.S. court granted FAA’s request for time to reconsider the issue. After testing by the agency’s Civil Aeromedical Institute (CAMI), FAA in November 1980 proposed a rule permitting accessible storage of the canes. The agency announced the final rule on July 24, 1981.
Monday, November 30, 1981:FAA “decombined” the last domestic combined station/tower (CS/T). Located at Valdez, Alaska, the CS/T had been the final survivor of a program begun by the Civil Aeronautics Administration under which air traffic control towers were consolidated with airway communication stations, the forerunners of flight service stations (see August 8, 1950). The number of CS/T’s had been declining since 1958.
Sunday, December 6, 1981:A new Metropolitan Washington Airports Policy became effective. In the making since 1978 (see March 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 October 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 March 1, 1982, initially had the effect of excluding jet operations at the airport during the specified hours. (See August 31, 1983.)
Wednesday, December 9, 1981:President Reagan rescinded a three-year prohibition of any Federal employment of controllers dismissed for participation in the PATCO strike (see August 3, 1981); however, the fired controllers were still barred from employment with FAA.
Tuesday, December 29, 1981:President Reagan suspended the U.S. landing rights of the Soviet airline Aeroflot as part of sanctions enacted in response to repression in Poland. The action came soon after a temporary one-week suspension of Aeroflot’s U.S. operations imposed during November because of violations of the prescribed routes. (See June 19, 1973, and April 29, 1986)
Thursday, December 31, 1981:The Federal Labor Relations Authority certified the Professional Airway Systems Specialists (PASS) as the exclusive representative of FAA’s electronics technicians. In a July election, PASS had defeated the Federal Aviation Science and Technological Association, known as FASTA (see October 5, 1976); however, PASS’s certification was delayed by objections filed by FASTA. FAA and PASS concluded a national labor agreement during fiscal 1984. (See May 1, 1991.)
Thursday, December 31, 1981:Robert E. Poli resigned as president of PATCO. (See October 22, 1981, and July 2, 1982.)
Thursday, December 31, 1981:The end of this day marked the completion of the second consecutive calendar year with no fatal airplane crashes by scheduled air carriers operating under Federal Aviation Regulations Part 121 — an unprecedented two-year record. Despite the absence of fatal crashes, however, Part 121 operations involved four varied mishaps in and around aircraft that each claimed one life in 1981. (See December 31, 1980, and December 31, 1993.)
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.