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ON JANUARY 13, 1982, AIR FLORIDA FLIGHT 90, A BOEING 737-222 (N62AF) STRUCK THE NORTHBOUND SPAN OF THE 14TH STREET BRIDGE WHICH CONNECTS THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA WITH ARLINGTON, COUNTY, VIRGINIA, AND PLUNGED INTO THE ICE-COVERED POTOMAC RIVER JUST AFTER TAKING OFF FROM WASHINGTON NATIONAL AIRPORT. SEVENTY OF THE 74 PASSENGERS, 4 OF THE 5 CREWMEMBERS, AND 4 PERSONS IN VEHICLES ON THE BRIDGE WERE FATALLY INJURED. THE WEATHER CONDITIONS WHICH HAD PREVAILED BEFORE AND AT THE TIME OF THE ACCIDENT CONSISTED OF SUBFREEZING TEMPERATURES AND ALMOST STEADY MODERATE TO HEAVY SNOWFALL WITH OBSCURED VISIBILITY.
THE NTSB RECOMMENDS THAT THE FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION: ISSUE A GENERAL NOTICE TO TERMINAL AREA AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL FACILITIES TO EMPHASIZE TO CONTROLLERS THAT THE SEPARATION CRITERIA SET FORTH IN FAA AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL HANDBOOK 7110.65C WHICH REQUIRE A MINIMUM OF 2 MILES SEPARATION DO NOT PERMIT DEVIATION BASED UPON THE ANTICIPATED ACCELERATION DIFFERENCES BETWEEN LANDING AND DEPARTING TRAFFIC.
Original recommendation transmittal letter:
Closed - Unacceptable Action
Washington, DC, United States
Air Florida, Inc., Boeing 737-222, N62AF, Collision with 14th Street Bridge
Addressee(s) and Addressee Status:
FAA (Closed - Unacceptable Action)
Safety Recommendation History
The Safety Board acknowledges that the FAA has completed a comprehensive review of the adequacy of the separation criteria set forth in FAA Handbook 7110.65C, paragraph 743. As part of that review, and in consideration of this recommendation, the FAA has added two notes to paragraph 743 to emphasize the separation criteria between arriving and departing aircraft. Also, this review has included discussions concerning the application of these separation criteria with regional air traffic division managers and also with selected air traffic facility managers. FAA has concluded that the procedures and notes contained in paragraph 743 are adequate and provide for the safe separation of arriving and departing aircraft. The Safety Board does not agree with the FAA's assessment and continues to believe that additional clarification is required. Moreover, we believe that the additional notes added to paragraph 743 on April 14, 1983, are not adequate in providing this clarification. Also, the FAA's description of how the separation criteria are applied further convinces the Safety Board that, in all probability, they will lead to less than 2 miles separation between the arriving and departing aircraft. In our view, this result is clearly not in compliance with paragraph 743. We continue to believe that infringement into the 2 miles separation can be a safety hazard to takeoff and landing operations, particularly when non-routine events occur. We believe that additional clarification is needed to assure that the minimum allowable separation of 2 miles is preserved; however, we do not have any additional information to forward to the FAA to support this recommendation. Therefore, Safety Recommendation A-82-85 has been classified as "Closed-- Unacceptable Action."
FAA LETTER: AFTER THOROUGH REVIEW AND DISCUSSION WITH FACILITY PERSONNEL AT MAJOR HUBS WHO USE THESE PROCEDURES ON A REGULAR BASIS, WE BELIEVE THAT WHEN APPLIED CORRECTLY THE PROCEDURES CONTAINED IN HANDBOOK 7110.65C, PARAGRAPH 743, REMAIN A SAFE AND VIABLE METHOD OF SEPARATING ARRIVING AND DEPARTING AIRCRAFT IN INSTRUMENT WEATHER CONDITIONS.
The Safety Board is concerned that the FAA's action in response to this recommendation is more an attempt to clarify than to correct the ATC procedures which permitted a situation such as the one which existed on January 13, 1982, and which resulted in a potentially unsafe separation between landing and departing traffic. The Board views the proposed revisions to Handbook 7110.65C, paragraph 743, as deficient. They fail to provide a minimum allowable separation between landing and departing traffic, since they do not require taking into account the speed differences between the airplanes. Moreover, they fail to address the problem that a local controller is unable to visually assess the positions and closure rate of the airplanes when visibility is reduced. In addition, Note 1 is ambiguous in that it appears to permit issuance of a takeoff release clearance when 2 miles separation exists, but relates the separation to commencement of the takeoff roll, an event which depends upon airplane position and pilot actions. The Safety Board did not believe that there was sufficient evidence to find that the ATC's handling of the Air Florida Flight 90 departure and Eastern Flight 1451 arrival was a factor in the crash of Air Florida Flight 90. However, the evidence indicated that Flight 1451 touched down before Flight 90 lifted off the runway and Data Source: NTSB Recommendations to FAA and FAA Responses that the separation was no greater than 4,000 feet, and might have been much less. The controller could not continually see the airplanes involved because of poor visibility. The Board viewed the situation as hazardous since the controller was not able to assess subnormal takeoff acceleration, and he might not have been able to take timely and safe actions to prevent a collision had Flight 90 rejected its takeoff or had Flight 1451 initiated a go-around. The Safety Board believes that the proposed changes to paragraph 743 do not reflect the common sense evident in the FAA's Traffic Training Program Lesson Plan, which stresses, "not to clear departure for takeoff when the arrival is 2 miles from the runway, it's too late then. Normally departure action must be taken at 3 miles to realize the 2 mile minimum." The Board views this stated practice as consistent with other ATC safe separation criteria and urges FAA to specifically require practices that maintain acceptable levels of safety for departure clearances. The Safety Board concludes, therefore, that the proposed ATC Handbook revisions are not responsive to Safety Recommendation A-82-85. We request that the FAA reconsider its response to this recommendation. In the interim Safety Recommendation A-82-85 will be classified as Open--Unacceptable Action" pending further communication from the FAA.
FAA LTR: THE FAA HAS REVIEWED THE PROCEDURES CONTAINED IN HANDBOOK 7110.65C PERTAINING TO SEPARATION OF DEPARTING AND ARRIVING AIRCRAFT. AS A RESULT OF THIS REVIEW, THE FAA HAS ADDED TWO EXPLANATORY NOTES TO PARAGRAPH 743, PROVIDING ADDITIONAL GUIDANCE CONCERNING THE USE OF THE 2 MILE SEPARATION CRITERIA AND ADDRESSING THE EFFECTS THAT SURFACE ICE, SNOW, AND PRECIPITATION MAY HAVE ON AIRCRAFT PERFORMANCE AND ACCELERATION DURING TAKEOFF ROLL.
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