Friday, January 11, 1985:Ralph Nader’s Aviation Consumer Action Project made public a study claiming that FAA had underreported near midair collisions (NMACs) for 1983 and 1984 (see October 18, 1984). FAA acknowledged that discrepancies existed and stated that procedural changes would ensure more accurate NMAC statistics in the future. On April 19, 1985, FAA released data showing a rise in NMACs for the first quarter of 1985. The agency stated that the increase reflected improved statistical procedures and renewed emphasis on pilot reporting of the incidents. In June, Georgetown University Dean Ronald L. Smith began an audit of the new NMAC reporting system. In findings announced by FAA on December 3, Dean Smith judged the system to be working well and found no evidence of earlier deliberate suppression of NMAC reports. Meanwhile, media attention to the NMAC issue heightened due to two such incidents in the national capital area on June 9 and September 24, 1985. In October 1985, NTSB Chairman James Burnett told Congress that the Board was very concerned about a trend toward increased NMACs. On April 14, 1986, FAA stated that reported NMACs for 1985 had totaled 777 (a figure later revised to 758), as compared to 589 for 1984. Commenting that the 1985 statistics were based on improved methods, FAA Administrator Engen pointed to the agency’s efforts to reduce NMACs, including the establishment of Airport Radar Service Areas (see December 22, 1983) and the “Back to Basics” program (see October 10, 1985). Engen also stated that special working groups were studying the problem of potential collisions on the ground, termed “runway incursions.” FAA later issued the following statistics: 840 NMAC reports in 1986; 1058 in 1987; 710 in 1988; 550 in 1989; 454 in 1990; 348 in 1991; 311 in 1992; and 293 in 1993.
Friday, February 8, 1985:FAA established a policy that the Precision Approach Path Indicator (PAPI) would be the standard visual glideslope indicator for new, Federally-funded installations at fixed-wing airports. PAPI was an improved version of VASI, the Visual Approach Slope Indicator (see October 12, 1970). The PAPI system featured four bars of light and was able to give pilots an indication of the extent of their deviation from the desired glide path, rather than merely warning that they were too high or too low. In 1982, the International Civil Aviation Organization had adopted PAPI to replace VASI, which would cease to be the international standard on January 1, 1995. In May 1983, FAA had changed its longstanding policy of funding only VASI to one permitting funding of various different systems, with the exception that only PAPI was funded for international airports. The agency’s February 1985 shift to exclusive funding of PAPI reflected a desire to promote safety through standardization. In response to congressional action, however, FAA modified this policy to permit funding of systems other than PAPI at general aviation airports not certificated for air carrier use.
Tuesday, February 26, 1985:FAA published Advisory Circular 91-62 stating a new policy on child restraint systems (CRSs). The background of this issue included the formation of an FAA Task force to evaluate the use on aircraft of CRSs, also known as child safety seats. On June 1, 1979, the task force had recommended that the agency adopt the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard for CRSs, with additional provisions for aircraft use. FAA developed performance standards which it published as a Technical Standard Order on May 28, 1982. Subsequently, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and FAA had worked toward a common standard. Advisory Circular 91-62 declared that a CRS manufactured after February 25, 1985, was suitable for aviation if it bore a NHTSA label certifying it for use in both motor vehicles and aircraft. In addition, a CRS made between January 1, 1981, and February 25, 1985, was suitable for use in aircraft provided it bore a NHTSA label indicating that it met Federal motor vehicle standards. The new FAA policy made an additional 6 million child seats acceptable for use aloft. FAA encouraged but did not require use of the devices, and airlines could decide whether to permit them (see September 15, 1992). Children under the age of two might still be held in an adult’s lap during takeoff and landing.
Monday, March 18, 1985:FAA began an in-depth inspection of Continental Airlines that lasted through April 26. This was the second special inspection of Continental (see February 6, 1984) since the Air Line Pilots Association began a strike against it. On June 11, 1985, FAA announced that the airline continued to operate in basic accordance with safety regulations. In March 1986, however, Continental paid a $402,000 penalty for violations uncovered by FAA during its 1984 and 1985 inspections. Meanwhile, the flight attendants and mechanics ended their strike against Continental in April 1985, and a bankruptcy court resolved the pilots strike during that October by ordering a back-to-work plan. On June 30, 1986, the court approved a plan allowing Continental to end its bankruptcy within sixty days. (See September 24, 1983 and December 3, 1990.)
Tuesday, March 19, 1985:The appointment of Charles E. Weithoner as the first Associate Administrator for Human Resource Management became effective. Weithoner had served in the post on an acting basis since the previous October. On September 4, 1985, an FAA directive formally created the position and placed four offices under its control: Human Resource Planning and Evaluation; Labor and Employee Relations; Organizational Effectiveness; and Personnel and Technical Training. At the same time, FAA abolished the former Office of Labor Relations and Office of Personnel and Training, and assigned their functions to offices under the new Associate Administrator. This structural change was part of a program of increased emphasis upon human relations (see July 1984.)
Tuesday, March 26, 1985:A directive issued on this date established a new Office of Program and Regulations Management under the Associate Administrator for Aviation Standards. The office was later retitled the Office of Program and Resource Management, and subsequently abolished by a directive issued on April 24, 1992.
Friday, March 29, 1985:FAA published a rule to improve cabin fire protection for passengers aboard aircraft operated by major airlines under Federal Aviation Regulations Part 121. The rule required that each lavatory be equipped with a smoke detector, or equivalent, and that each lavatory trash receptacle be equipped with an automatic fire extinguisher. It also increased the number of hand fire extinguishers required in the cabins of aircraft with more than 60 seats, and specified that at least two of these use Halon 1211 or an equivalent extinguishing agent. The new rule resulted from investigation of two aircraft cabin fires and an inspection survey conducted in their wake. One of these fires involved an Air Canada flight (see June 2, 1983) and the other was a non-fatal blaze at Tampa on June 25, 1983. (See May 26, 1987, and April 4, 1991.)
Wednesday, April 17, 1985:FAA published a rule establishing a blood alcohol standard (.04 percent by weight) for determining when drinking had impaired the ability of aircrew members to perform their duties. The new regulation strengthened the existing rule prohibiting anyone from acting as an aircrew member within eight hours of alcohol consumption or while under the influence of alcohol or any drug adversely affecting performance (see December 5, 1970). A related rule published on January 9, 1986, made airmen subject to possible loss or suspension of their licenses if they refused to submit to tests for alcohol given by law enforcement officers under certain conditions. (See February 17, 1987, and March 8, 1990.)
Monday, April 29, 1985:Astronauts aboard the space shuttle Challenger placed the Northern Utah Satellite (NUSAT) in orbit. The 105 lb. aluminum polyhedron satellite was an experiment aimed at developing a new means of calibrating the vertical tilt of FAA beacon radar antennas. Before reentering the atmosphere on December 15, 1986, NUSAT transmitted important information on the radar signal environment as perceived from low earth orbit. The project was accomplished by a volunteer coalition of FAA, NASA, Utah’s Weber State College, and numerous aerospace companies.
Sunday, May 5, 1985:Administrator Engen and other FAA officials arrived in Beijing on a mission to foster closer cooperation between the U.S. and China in aviation matters. On August 28, 1985, Transportation Secretary Dole announced that the two countries were working together for a mutual exchange of information, research, and experts for further development of their transportation systems. The Secretary made the announcement in Beijing during a trip to China with her husband, Senator Robert Dole (R-Kan.). (See March 15, 1986)
Thursday, May 9, 1985:The first of four heliports selected in 1983 for development under FAA’s National Prototype Demonstration Instrument Flight Rules Heliport Program was dedicated in Indianapolis. A $2.5 million Airport Improvement Program grant had assisted the establishment of the facility.
Friday, May 17, 1985:United Airlines pilots went on strike over the company’s plan for a two-tiered pay structure with lower pay for new pilots. The union and management soon reached an economic agreement that permitted such a two-tier system, but back-to-work issues delayed settlement until June 14. During the strike, FAA increased safety surveillance of United operations, and used electronic equipment to help identify those harassing non-striking pilots with illegal radio transmissions on air traffic control frequencies.
Friday, May 31, 1985:FAA announced new criteria on extended range (ER) flights. Previously, FAA had generally prohibited a two-engine aircraft from flying a route that at any point was more than one hour flying time (in still air at normal cruising speed with one engine inoperative) from a usable airport. Under the new criteria, the diversion time was increased to two hours, provided that at least half of each extended-range route segment was less than 90 minutes of one-engine flying time from an airport. The change meant that some two-engine aircraft would be able to fly North Atlantic routes without veering far to the north. As experience with extended two-engine operations increased, FAA further increased permitted diversion times. In 1989, the agency approved a three-hour diversion time, long enough to permit two-engine operations between Hawaii and the U.S. mainland.
Monday, June 3, 1985:A directive issued on this date established the Airport Capacity Program Office under the Associate Administrator for Airports. (See February 21, 1990.)
Thursday, June 6, 1985:The Professional Airway Systems Specialists (PASS), the bargaining agent for Airway Facilities technicians, agreed with FAA on a joint labor-management employee involvement (E-I) pilot program. A steering committee composed of five FAA and five union representatives agreed upon an eighteen-month test of E-I, a concept involving cooperative efforts to solve operational problems affecting employees. The program was first implemented at facilities in Baltimore and New York, and subsequently expanded to all FAA regions. (See August 31, 1991.)
Friday, June 7, 1985:Effective this date, FAA reduced the total flight hours required for a pilot to be eligible to obtain an instrument rating from 200 to 125. A contract study had indicated that the change would have no effect on pilots’ ability to learn instrument flying skills, but would encourage them to acquire the rating earlier.
Friday, June 14, 1985:Two Lebanese Shiite Moslems hijacked a TWA 727 departing Athens and diverted it to Beirut, where additional hijackers joined them. During a two-week confrontation, they demanded the release of Shiite prisoners held by Israel. The hijackers murdered one passenger, a U.S. Navy diver. They released the other 155 hostages (including 39 Americans) in stages, the last being freed on June 30. Lebanese authorities held the aircraft in Beirut until August 16.
The TWA hijacking and an upsurge in Middle East terrorism prompted a series of U.S. actions. Events included:
- On June 18, President Reagan warned travelers of inadequate security measures at Athens airport. This advisory was lifted on July 22, after an FAA inspection found improvements.
- On June 23, an Air India jet crashed under mysterious circumstances (see entry for this date below).
- On June 27, Transportation Secretary Dole urged the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to act immediately to enhance airport security. The ICAO Council met on an accelerated schedule, and on December 19 adopted amendments strengthening international security standards and recommended practices.
- On July 1, the President suspended airline travel between U.S. and Lebanon.
- During July, FAA issued an emergency regulatory amendment requiring airlines to carry Federal Air Marshals on certain flights. Eight days later, the agency issued another emergency rule that required airlines to expand security training for crew members and to provide a ground security coordinator and an in-flight security coordinator for every flight.
- Between mid-August and early Nov, FAA personnel assisted by law enforcement officers from other agencies inspected U.S. air carrier security procedures at 79 foreign airports.
- FAA also issued a number of emergency amendments to the agency-approved security programs of both airlines and airport operators.
- On August 8, the President signed the International Security and Development Cooperation Act of 1985. The Act authorized the use of $5 million from the Airport and Airway Trust Fund for research on and development of airport security devices and explosives detection techniques. It also mandated a system for conducting security assessments at foreign airports, and authorized Federal Air Marshals as a permanent FAA workforce. The agency began hiring additional security inspectors and training them to serve as Air Marshals. FAA also reorganized its Office of Civil Aviation Security to reflect its expanded responsibilities under the Act, creating an International Civil Aviation Security Division and an Intelligence Division. (See August 5, 1986.)