FAA History: 1996

Tuesday, February 13, 1996:FAA announced that it and Europe’s Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA) had developed a common set of certification standards for newly designed small airplanes. The achievement was part of an ongoing effort to reduce or eliminate burdensome duplicative requirements through harmonization of international standards.
Tuesday, February 20, 1996:FAA began a 120-day special emphasis safety review of ValuJet Airlines, an innovative low-cost carrier that had grown rapidly since its certification on October 21, 1993. Factors prompting the review included a series of incidents and nonfatal accidents. (See May 11, 1996.)
Thursday, February 22, 1996:Confirming its intent to address staffing needs at key facilities, FAA announced that it planned to hire 100 more air traffic controllers during 1996, and that the Clinton Administration would request funding for hundreds more during 1997 (see September 30, 1996). The agency pledged to give fair consideration to former strikers (see August 12, 1993).
Saturday, February 24, 1996:Cuban fighters shot down two U.S. civil aircraft off the coast of Cuba, killing all four persons aboard the two Cessna 337s, which were operated by a Cuban exile group. A third exile plane returned to the United States. On February 26, President Clinton took retaliatory measures that included the indefinite suspension of all charter flights between Cuba and the United States. FAA actions included a letter warning south Florida airmen of the dangers and penalties associated with violating Cuban airspace. In May, the agency also revoked the license of the pilot of the third exile plane, based on evidence that he had entered Cuban airspace on February 24 and on a previous occasion.
Thursday, February 29, 1996:As part of a continuing “open skies” initiative (see September 4, 1992), DOT announced a U.S.-German agreement relaxing limitations on air travel between the two countries. By this date, the United States had concluded 10 other open skies agreements with European nations: the Netherlands, Austria, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and Belgium. In addition, the United States and Canada had signed a liberal agreement on transborder air travel on February 24, 1995. Other international accords increasing opportunities for airline service included a June 5, 1995, agreement with Britain that included some expansion of airport access and other privileges for U.S. and U.K. carriers.
Tuesday, March 12, 1996:FAA issued a comprehensive revision of pilot medical standards and medical certification procedures. Among the many changes was a modification of the previous two-year validity period for the third-class airman medical certificates required for student, recreational, and private pilots. The validity period would still be two years for pilots of age 40 and older, but would now be three years for younger pilots.
Friday, March 29, 1996:The Clinton Administration announced a Presidential directive assuring the availability of Global Positioning System (GPS) signals to civilian users. The new policy included a planned end to the practice of degrading civil GPS signals, within a decade, in a manner that would allow the U.S. military to prepare for this eventuality. On April 26, FAA cancelled its contract with Wilcox Electric for the Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) to enhance GPS signals (see August 1, 1995). The agency cited project management problems and projected cost overruns. On May 1, FAA entered into a letter contract with Hughes Information Technology Systems regarding WAAS. This was followed by the October 29 announcement of a comprehensive contract with Hughes for WAAS development and implementation. Other related milestones during 1996 included a July 26 FAA plan for transition to GPS-based navigation and landing guidance during a period of about 10 years that would start when augmented GPS service became available.
Sunday, March 31, 1996:Effective this date, the following functions were transferred from the Office of Public Affairs to the organization of the Associate Administrator for Administration: the Freedom of Information Act program; the audiovisual function; and the agency history program.
Monday, April 1, 1996:Effective this date, reforms gave FAA new flexibility on personnel and procurement policies, a change made possible by legislative relief from various statutory requirements (see November 15, 1995). Teams of FAA personnel had helped to establish procedures for implementing the reforms. The new acquisition management system aimed at reducing the time and cost of acquiring systems and services while making the acquisition workforce more accountable. The new personnel system was intended to speed recruitment and to reward outstanding employees while dealing effectively with substandard performance. In accordance with reform legislation, all FAA employees became part of a new Federal Aviation Service (FAS) on this date. The FAS was designated an “excepted service” in contrast to the “competitive service” to which most Federal personnel belonged. FAA was no longer subject to certain Office of Personnel Management rules on filling positions and related actions, but its employees continued to enjoy a range of legal protections that applied to other Federal workers. Unionized FAA employees retained their representational status, as provided for by legislation that had been enacted on March 29. Later in the year, FAA reauthorization legislation enacted further reform measures (see entry for September 30, 1996).
Monday, April 1, 1996:DOT and FAA announced a program of special pay incentives for seven hard-to-staff air traffic control facilities in or near Oakland, Chicago, and New York City. The program affected about 2,200 employees, including controllers, flight service data processing specialists, technicians, and certain technical staff and managers. They received a 10 percent raise, with 7 percent effective April 14 and the remainder effective by mid-October 1996. At the same time, DOT Secretary Peña announced that delivery of new computers to five en route control centers under the Display Channel Complex Rehost (DCCR) project would be speeded by 10 months (see August 1, 1995). The first of these DCCR systems became operational at the Chicago center in January 1997.
Friday, April 12, 1996:FAA commissioned the nation’s first ARSR-4 air route surveillance radar (see September 1986), and had commissioned a total of 12 by the end of calendar 1996.
Monday, May 6, 1996:FAA renamed its Technical Center the William J. Hughes Technical Center. The new name honored Ambassador Hughes, a former member of Congress (D.-N.J.) and a long-time supporter of the facility.
Monday, May 6, 1996: In a full-scale fire test at FAA’s Technical Center, one of the new materials tested demonstrated its ability to double the time that it takes for fire to burn through an aircraft’s fuselage. The test was part of joint work with British aviation authorities to increase fuselages’ resistance to external conflagrations, and was an example of FAA’s continuing research in aircraft fire safety. (See November 3, 1988.)
Tuesday, May 7, 1996:DOT announced that about 80 percent of non-stop scheduled U.S. airline flights between the United States and foreign countries would be free of smoking as of June 1, when certain air carriers would implement smoking curbs. During the previous year, DOT had granted anti-trust immunity permitting airlines to discuss smoking bans. Other U.S. steps against smoking on international flights had included a 1994 agreement with Canada and Australia to ban the practice on flights between the three nations. (See February 25, 1990.)
Thursday, May 9, 1996:FAA announced its Global Analysis and Information Network (GAIN) concept, a proposed system to collect and analyze aviation safety data. The agency asked for comments from the aviation community on the development of GAIN prototypes, including the proposal that GAIN be privately owned and operated by an international consortium. In September 1996, FAA announced that Britain’s Royal Aeronautical Society had agreed to host a conference on GAIN during the following spring. On October 22-24, meanwhile, the first international GAIN workshop took place at Cambridge, Mass.
Saturday, May 11, 1996:A ValuJet DC-9 crashed into the Everglades shortly after takeoff from Miami, killing all 110 persons aboard. The crew’s loss of control was due to an intense fire caused by activation of one or more oxygen generators carried in the forward cargo compartment. In a report released in August 1997, the National Transportation Safety Board found the accident’s probable cause to be: the failure of SabreTech, a ValuJet contractor, to properly handle and identify the chemical oxygen generators before presenting them to the airline for carriage; ValuJet’s failure to properly oversee its contract maintenance program; and FAA’s failure to require smoke detection and fire suppression systems in cargo compartments of the type (Class D) in which the fire had started. On the day after the crash, FAA announced an expansion of its ongoing review of ValuJet (see February 20, 1996). On May 23, DOT’s Research and Special Projects Administration issued an immediate temporary ban on the transportation of chemical oxygen generators as cargo on passenger airlines. (See June 17 and December 30, 1996.)
Thursday, May 16, 1996:FAA unveiled the findings of the Challenge 2000 project, a review of the agency’s regulation and certification capabilities in light of the rapid changes taking place in aviation. The agency had announced the project on July 13, 1995, and during the following month had selected Booz-Allen & Hamilton, Inc. to conduct the review. The project report included recommendations that FAA’s Regulation and Certification organization: shift its resources to focus more on industry groups most in need of oversight; revise its organizational structure; redesign and expedite the rulemaking process; and create new Centers of Excellence as sources of expertise (see October 1992).
Monday, May 20, 1996:FAA announced that the agency and Boeing had formed a partnership to build the world’s first full-scale airport pavement test facility at the William J. Hughes Technical Center.
Monday, June 17, 1996:FAA announced that ValuJet Airlines would cease operations, as of midnight on the same day, pending safety improvements required under a consent decree (see August 29, 1996). The agency based its action on an intensified inspection of the carrier undertaken since the recent crash (see May 11, 1996). FAA stated that this heightened scrutiny had revealed serious safety deficiencies in the areas of airworthiness, maintenance, quality assurance of contractors, and engineering capability. The announcement sparked renewed criticism of DOT and FAA because it appeared to contrast with statements, made following the accident, assuring the public that the airline was safe. The next day, Secretary of Transportation Peña and Administrator Hinson described steps to improve safety oversight and address public concerns. Peña stated that he would urge Congress to make safety FAA’s single primary mission (see September 30, 1996). Hinson outlined improvements to FAA’s examination of airlines, such as ValuJet, that relied heavily on contractors for maintenance and training. He stated that Deputy Administrator Daschle would lead a review of pertinent regulatory issues (see September 16, 1996). Hinson also announced the retirement of Anthony J. Broderick, Associate Administrator for Regulation and Certification. (See July 15 and November 14, 1996.)
Thursday, June 27, 1996:FAA signed a contract with Northrup Grumman Systems for three full-scale development versions of the Airport Movement Area Safety System (AMASS) . The system was designed to provide a visual and aural alert for the display of the Airport Surface Detection Equipment model 3. (See December 3, 1993.)
Monday, July 1, 1996:The United States adopted, with some modifications, an international system for reporting surface weather observations and terminal forecasts for aviation use.
Tuesday, July 2, 1996:Vice President Gore announced NASA’s selection of Lockheed Martin to build the X-33, an unmanned, reusable spacecraft intended as step toward replacing the space shuttle. The experimental craft would be capable of suborbital flight 50 miles high. NASA stated that the project should lead to a fleet of privately owned and operated vehicles to carry both government and industry payloads.
Monday, July 15, 1996:FAA Administrator Hinson announced initiatives to address the dangers of transporting hazardous materials by air. The initiatives called for a seven-fold increase in resources devoted to the issue, funding to upgrade the “hazmat” program, and the hiring of 130 additional inspectors and legal personnel. He also stated that FAA had asked the Research and Special Projects Administration to ban the transport of oxidizing materials in specific compartments on passenger and cargo aircraft (see December 30, 1996).
Tuesday, July 16, 1996:FAA published a rulemaking proposal to increase the amount of data collected by Flight Data Recorders installed in airliners. The agency specified the data parameters to be required for various new and existing aircraft, with retrofit to be accomplished within four years of the final rule. The largest increase in parameters — from 29 to 88 — would apply to aircraft manufactured five years after the proposed rule’s effective date. The proposal addressed concerns raised in several National Transportation Safety Board recommendations following unexplained crashes (see September 8, 1994).
Wednesday, July 17, 1996:Trans World Airlines Flight 800 exploded in midair and crashed into the Atlantic off Long Island after taking off from New York Kennedy airport for Paris. All 230 persons aboard the Boeing 747 died. Initial speculation as to the cause focused on terrorism. On the day after the tragedy, FAA confirmed that the security measures announced during the previous summer (see August 9, 1995) remained in effect, with some adjustments. On July 25, President Clinton announced increased security for air travel. FAA stated that steps would include more intensive screening of passengers on international flights, increased screening of carry-on bags for both international and domestic flights, as well as other actions not disclosed to the public. Clinton also announced that Vice President Gore would head a commission to review aviation security. This White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security was formally established August 21, 1996. (See September 9, 1996.) Despite painstaking recovery of the wreckage, the TWA disaster proved difficult to explain. Throughout 1996, the National Transportation Safety Board refused to rule out any of three possible causes: a bomb, a missile, or mechanical failure. As the investigation progressed, however, the possibility of an accidental fuel tank explosion received increased media attention. On December 13, 1996, the Board announced a group of recommendations for improving the safety of the 747 fuel system. FAA, which had been conducting a review of 747 safety issues in the wake of the crash, issued on December 23 an airworthiness directive requiring inspection of certain wiring in the fuel systems of older 747s.
Saturday, August 17, 1996:To combat the hazard of wake turbulence, FAA implemented new separation standards for aircraft. The agency increased the required separation for small aircraft traveling behind a Boeing 757 from four to five nautical miles. At the same time, FAA revised the definition of the three aircraft weight categories used in setting separations to avoid wake turbulence: small (formerly 12,500 lb. or less, changed to 41,000 lb. or less; large (formerly 12,500-300,000 lb, changed to 41,000-255,000 lb.); and heavy (formerly 300,00 lb. or more, changed to 255,00 lb. or more). As a result, some 57 aircraft types moved from the large to small category. (See November 1, 1975, and May 20, 1994.)
Thursday, August 22, 1996:FAA announced nine proposed Airworthiness Directives on changes to the design of Boeing 737 flight control systems. The proposals stemmed from recommendations of a Critical Design Review prompted by two 737 accidents (see September 8, 1994). Following new information from Boeing that a valve in the 737 rudder power control unit could jam under extreme conditions, FAA on November 11 issued an airworthiness directive requiring repetitive inspections. Continuing attention to the 737 control system issue led in January 1997 to an airworthiness directive on precautionary flight procedures. During the same month, Vice President Gore announced that FAA intended to require retrofit of 737 rudder components.
Thursday, August 29, 1996:FAA returned ValuJet’s operating certificate to the airline, stating that the carrier had completed the safety improvements outlined in the consent order that grounded it (see June 17, 1996). The action cleared ValuJet to renew operations, subject to a DOT fitness ruling subsequently granted on September 26. The airline resumed flying on September 30. FAA imposed a limit of 15 aircraft, subject to review, in contrast to the 51 aircraft that the carrier had operated before its grounding.
Monday, September 9, 1996:President Clinton called on Congress to appropriate more than $1 billion for a variety of anti-terrorism measures. Proposed programs related to aviation included: improved airport bomb-detection equipment, more FAA research; more FAA security personnel; expanded Customs Service air security resources; a computerized passenger “profile” screening system; immediate criminal background checks for airport workers with access to secure areas; deployment of explosive-detection dog teams at airports; and a test of a system for matching luggage and passengers on all domestic flights. These measures were based on recommendations of the White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security (see July 17, 1996), whose initial report was also dated September 9, 1996. Many of these initiatives were funded by legislation enacted on September 30, 1996 (see that date).
Monday, September 16, 1996:FAA announced the award of a contract to build the Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System (STARS) to a team led by Raytheon (see December 13, 1993). Under the contract, the team would develop and install new computers, displays and software for terminal radar approach control facilities (TRACONs). This joint procurement involved new equipment for up to 172 FAA and 199 DOD facilities. On September 17, FAA announced that the Dallas-Fort Worth TRACON was now operating an updated Automated Radar Terminal System IIIE (ARTS IIIE), the first of several new ARTS IIIEs that would provide improvements pending STARS implementation.
Monday, September 16, 1996:A team headed by Deputy Administrator Daschle submitted a report on a 90-day review of FAA safety regulation and certification (see June 17, 1996). Recommendations included: creation of a national team to assist local certification offices regarding new entrants into the airline industry; increased safety surveillance and growth management for new carriers; actions to ensure that carriers have the resources to operate a varied fleet and to support “outsourcing” of functions to contractors; additional support for inspectors through upgraded training, guidance material, and information technology; and increased inspector staffing. (See September 30, 1996.)
Wednesday, September 18, 1996:FAA announced that it and NASA were testing a new Automated Performance Measuring System (APMS) to convert digital data from Flight Data Recorders directly into easily understood safety information. FAA/industry joint work on Flight Operations Quality Assurance (FOQA) programs had demonstrated the need for such a system to assist FAA, airlines, and flight crews in improving safety and efficiency. (See December 6, 1996.)
Thursday, September 19, 1996:FAA issued a license to Spaceport Systems International, allowing it to open the world’s first privately-operated space launch facility, California Spaceport. The facility was located on Vandenberg AFB, Calif.
Thursday, September 26, 1996:A new Pan American World Airways began service. The operators of the small new carrier had purchased the name and trademark of the original airline. (See December 4, 1991.)
Monday, September 30, 1996:Chicago’s Meigs Field ceased operations as part of a plan by the city’s mayor to convert the lakefront facility into a park, a concept opposed by Illinois’ governor. On January 6, 1997, the two officials announced a compromise under which the city would reopen and operate the airport for five years but then be free to close it.
Monday, September 30, 1996:Pres. Clinton signed the DOT appropriations bill for fiscal 1997 (P.L. 104-205), providing $8.3 billion for FAA programs. The legislation gave funds for hiring hundreds of new controllers, maintenance technicians, inspectors, and security personnel. On the same day, the President also signed a continuing appropriations bill (P.L. 104-208) that funded programs to increase safety and combat terrorism through a range of means such as deployment of new security equipment at airports (see September 9 and December 23, 1996). The continuing resolution also gave funds to step up surveillance of newly certificated airlines and to increase the number of safety inspectors, as recommended by Deputy Administrator Daschle’s 90-day review team (see September 16, 1996).
Monday, September 30, 1996: On October 9, the President signed the Federal Aviation Reauthorization Act of 1996 (P.L. 104-264) , which contained further appropriations, increased the agency’s share of Trust Fund monies from 70 to 72.5 percent, and provided two-year funding for the Airport Improvement Program. The legislation established a National Civil Aviation Review Commission to report to Congress on the state of aviation safety and on providing long-term funding for the agency. The law contained provisions aimed at expanding FAA’s financial accountability and increasing its autonomy within DOT. It directed the establishment of a Federal Aviation Management Advisory Council composed of 15 members serving 3-year terms, with one member designated by DOT, one by the Defense Department, and 13 by the President with Senatorial approval. The Council was to advise the FAA Administrator and function as an oversight resource for management policy, spending, and regulatory matters. To address public perceptions about FAA’s “dual mission,” the law specified safety as the agency’s highest priority. FAA remained responsible for encouraging and developing civil aeronautics, but references to a promotional role were eliminated from its mandate.
The law provided for a variety of enhancements to aviation safety, emphasizing anti-terrorism through such means as new requirements for background checks of certain airport personnel with security functions associated with cargo or baggage. The legislation banned children from controlling aircraft for the purpose of setting records. (This stipulation stemmed from a crash on April 11, 1996, that claimed the life of a 7-year-old girl, her flight instructor, and her father.) Another provision directed FAA to hire an ombudsman for noise issues.
The law’s Title VII was designated the Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act of 1996. It gave the National Transportation Safety Board new responsibilities for aiding the families of the victims of air accidents.
September 1996:The Driver’s Enhanced Vision System (DEVS) became operational at Boston Logan airport, the pilot installation site for this FAA-developed equipment. DEVS was designed to assist emergency crews when visibility was limited by such factors as smoke, flames, fog, or precipitation. The system combined satellite, digital, and infrared technologies.
Tuesday, October 1, 1996:FAA established a new Air Traffic Systems Requirements Service within the organization of the Associate Administrator for Air Traffic Services. The move combined requirements organizations from Air Traffic and Airway Facilities into a single unit, bringing together controllers and engineers to conceptualize new technology.
Thursday, October 10, 1996:FAA implemented the Metroplex Plan at Dallas/Fort Worth airport, making the airport capable of handling simultaneous triple landings and greatly increasing air traffic capacity. The plan entailed 68 construction projects, including two high-frequency radio towers, and an additional runway, and a new terminal radar approach control facility (TRACON), which was the latest element to be commissioned. New twin air traffic control towers had been commissioned at Dallas/Fort Worth on June 15, 1994, giving the airport a total of three working towers.
Wednesday, November 6, 1996:FAA announced its approval of operational use of the Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System (EGPWS) on all Boeing 757 aircraft operated by American Airlines, the first carrier to receive such permission. (See December 20, 1995.)
Saturday, November 9, 1996:David R. Hinson resigned as FAA Administrator, effective this date. With Hinson’s departure, Deputy Administrator Daschle became Acting Administrator, a post that she held until resigning from the agency, effective January 31, 1997.
Tuesday, November 12, 1996:A midair collision near New Delhi, India, claimed the lives of all 349 persons aboard two airliners, a Saudi Arabia Airlines 747 and a Kazak Airlines Ilyushin Il-76. The accident was history’s deadliest collision between two aircraft in flight, and ranked third among the world’s worst civil aviation disasters, summarized as follows: (1) March 27, 1977, Pan American and KLM, runway collision, 583 fatalities; (2) August 12, 1985, Japan Air Lines, control system failure, 520 fatalities; (3) November 12, 1996, Saudi and Kazak airlines, midair collision, 349 fatalities; (4) March 3, 1974, Turkish Airlines, in-flight decompression, 346 fatalities; (5) June 23, 1985, Air India, believed sabotage, 329 fatalities; (6) August 19, 1980, Saudi Arabian Airlines, in-flight fire, 301 fatalities; (7) July 3, 1988, Iran Air, military shoot-down, 290 fatalities; (8) May 25, 1979, American Airlines, engine separation, 272 fatalities; (9) December 21, 1988, Pan American, sabotage, 270 fatalities; (10) September 1, 1983, Korean Air Lines, military shoot-down, 269 fatalities. (See dates indicated.)
Thursday, November 14, 1996:FAA announced its decision to issue a rulemaking proposal to require retrofit of fire detection and suppression equipment on some 2,800 older commercial aircraft that did not currently carry this equipment in inaccessible cargo compartments. This proposal, which grew out of concerns following a ValuJet crash (see May 11, 1996), was subsequently issued on June 10, 1997. On December 12, 1996, meanwhile, a group of the nation’s largest airlines announced that they would voluntarily install fire detection systems in cargo holds that lacked the equipment.
Monday, November 18, 1996:FAA announced a policy change concerning pilot certification of individuals with insulin-treated diabetes. The new policy permitted the consideration of waivers to allow such persons to receive limited third-class medical certificates, making it possible for them to qualify for student, recreational, and private pilot certificates.
Monday, November 25, 1996:Officials at John F. Kennedy airport unveiled a new aircraft arresting system, made of foam blocks, to bring aircraft to a safe stop if they overrun a runway. The airport was the first to install the system, jointly developed by FAA and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Sunday, December 15, 1996:An agreement under which Boeing would acquire McDonnell Douglas was announced by the two companies. On August 4, 1997, Boeing announced that the merger was complete and that it was now the world’s largest aerospace company. Boeing had been formed as the Pacific Aero Products Company in 1916 and adopted the Boeing name the following year. McDonnell Douglas had been created by a merger of two firms (see April 28, 1967).
Tuesday, December 17, 1996:FAA unveiled a $500,000. public education campaign using the slogan “Turbulence Happens.” The campaign promoted seatbelt use by airplane passengers (see June 20, 1995). It also reinforced FAA’s recommendation that children weighing under 40 lb. were safest in a certified child restraint system when flying (see June 8, 1995).
Friday, December 20, 1996:President Clinton announced the selection of Rodney E. Slater to be Secretary of Transportation during the President’s second term. A former chairman of the Arkansas State Highway Commission, Slater had been Administrator of the Federal Highway Administration since 1993. Clinton also revealed the nomination of the current Secretary of Transportation, Federico Peña, to be Secretary of Energy. Peña’s resignation from the DOT post became effective on February 14, 1997, the same day that Slater became Secretary.
Monday, December 23, 1996:FAA announced the award of contracts to Raytheon and to Lockheed Martin to provide planning, design, and services required to integrate and install advanced security equipment at up to 77 U.S. airports. On December 26, the agency revealed that it had ordered 54 CTX-5000 SP explosives detection systems (see December 9, 1994) for use at the nation’s busiest airports. The action responded to a recommendation of the White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security (see September 30, 1996).
Monday, December 30, 1996:The Research and Special Projects Administration (RSPA) published a rule permanently banning oxygen generators as cargo on passenger aircraft (see May 11, 1996). On the same day, RSPA published a rulemaking proposal to prohibit carriage of oxidizing materials and compressed oxygen on passenger aircraft, as well as on cargo aircraft if stored in inaccessible cargo compartments lacking fire detection and suppression equipment.