Wednesday, January 13, 1982:A Boeing 737 operated by Air Florida crashed near Washington National Airport shortly after taking off during snowfall. The aircraft hit a bridge, killing 4 persons in vehicles, and plunged into the icy Potomac River. Of the 79 persons aboard the jet, only four passengers and one flight attendant survived. The National Transportation Safety Board determined that the probable cause of the crash was the crew’s failure to use the engine anti-icing system during ground operation and takeoff, their decision to take off with snow/ice on the airfoil surfaces, and the captain’s failure to abort takeoff when his attention was called to anomalous engine instrument readings. Contributing to the accident were: prolonged delay between deicing by ground crew and takeoff, during which the aircraft was exposed to continual snowfall; the known pitch-up characteristics of the 737 when the leading edge was contaminated by even small amounts of snow or ice; and the crew’s limited experience in jet transport winter operations. As a result of the accident, FAA and the aviation industry took a number of actions to increase awareness of cold weather hazards and the proper response to them. (See December 12, 1985.)
Saturday, January 23, 1982:In a night landing too far down an icy runway at Boston’s Logan airport, a World Airways DC-10 slid over the edge of a seawall and into shallow harbor water. The nose section separated from the fuselage, and two passengers seated at the separation point were later found to be missing and presumed drowned. In its original report on the accident, the National Transportation Safety Board listed pilot error as a contributory factor, but found the probable cause to be the pilot’s lack of information on the slippery runway conditions. The Board blamed this lack on the airport management and on FAA, citing inadequate regulation and air traffic controllers’ failure to relay runway condition reports. After protests from FAA and the airport authority, the Board issued a revised finding that placed somewhat more emphasis on pilot error.
Thursday, January 28, 1982:FAA released a National Airspace System Plan (NAS Plan or NASP), a comprehensive 20-year blueprint for modernizing the nation’s air traffic control and air navigation system. The 450-page document had been printed the previous month and bore the date December 1981. It spelled out specific improvements to be made to facilities and equipment to meet the projected demands of air transportation. Key elements of the plan included:
- Computers: FAA would first replace the IBM 9020 computers at the air route traffic control centers with more powerful computers that could use the existing programs or “software packages.” The agency would then proceed with development of new software as well as new consoles and displays known as “sector suites.” (See August 30, 1982.)
- Facility consolidation: air route traffic control centers and terminal radar control rooms would be consolidated from approximately 200 into about 60 by the year 2,000 (see March 22, 1983). Flight service stations would be consolidated from about 300 into 61 automated facilities. (See October 2, 1981.)
- Radars: a new secondary radar system would interrogate aircraft transponders on an individual basis, paving the way for automatic “data link” air-ground communications. This Mode S equipment (“S” for “selective address”), in combination with a new generation of Doppler weather radar, would also permit the replacement of the existing primary en route radar system. Primary radar would be retained in terminal areas, however, and be improved with the addition of a separate weather channel. (See October 5, 1984.)
- Weather services: were to be upgraded by such means as direct pilot access to computer weather data via remote terminals or touchtone telephones (see March 14, 1984). Automated sensors at airports would generate radio broadcasts on surface conditions, improving safety and allowing lower weather minimums for landing (see January 26, 1983).
- The Microwave Landing System (MLS): full production procurement was to be initiated in fiscal 1983, with over 1,250 to be in place before century’s end (see April 19, 1978 and January 12, 1984). FAA expected the new equipment to provide precision guidance over a much broader area than the existing Instrument Landing Systems, thus allowing greater operational flexibility. Following the publication of this initial NAS Plan, FAA issued updated editions annually (see February 8, 1991).