A whistleblower recently called attention to unsafe landing practices at the Detroit Metro Airport. The whistleblower, a veteran air traffic controller, has helped uncover dangerous flaws in the airport’s instrument landing system (ILS). This system emits radio waves that help guide approaching aircraft to the center of the runway. Air traffic control recordings attest to the danger, as many pilots have voiced complaints about the flawed system upon landing. Nevertheless, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has failed to take immediate corrective actions. The U.S. Special Counsel recently notified the President about this lapse in safety, but it remains to be determined whether officials at the Detroit Metro Airport have repaired or replaced the faulty system.
Boeing’s fleet of 737 Max jets remain grounded in the wake of two crashes that occurred shortly after takeoff and within five months of each other. Both crashes killed all passengers on board, a total of 346 people, and the jets’ black box data recorders have revealed many similarities between the two incidents. Both jets were equipped with Boeing’s newly implemented stall-prevention software called the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS). The system automatically adjusts the pitch of the aircraft, but it malfunctioned in both crashes when MCAS seized control from the pilots and plunged the jets into the ground. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not yet announced when these jets will be allowed to fly again, although test flights have recently been conducted.
On March 10, 2019, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 en route to Nairobi, Kenya crashed shortly after take-off leaving no survivors. It became the carrier’s most deadly crash and its first fatal crash since January 2010. Most notably, however, it was the second fatal crash involving Boeing’s new 737 MAX jet in less than five months after the Lion Air Flight 610 accident in October 2018. The day following the tragedy, Ethiopian Airlines grounded all of its Boeing 737 MAX 8 fleet until further notice. Many other airlines suspended operations of the aircraft as well and countless countries banned the 737 MAX from airspace.
Aviation accidents, though rare, occur all over the world. However, the relatively high frequency of airplane disappearances and fatal incidents in Southeast Asia has been a primary cause of concern within the industry. Most recently, on October 29, 2018, a Boeing 737 Max 8 operated by Indonesian airline Lion Air crashed into the Java Sea off the coast of Jakarta. Just thirteen minutes into a scheduled hour-long flight, all 189 passengers and crewmembers aboard the aircraft lost their lives. Almost immediately,speculation arose regarding the cause of the accident as well as questions regarding the common occurrence of Indonesian aviation disasters.
Flying home from a baseball game is much more of a reality than we think. In the fourth quarter of 2016, Uber released a white paper detailing a roadmap of their proposed adventure into the air taxi business—the autonomous air taxi business and in doing so, they headlined conceptual aircraft ideas using vertical takeoff and landing (“VTOL”) technology. The paper outlines Uber’s plans for the next 10 years, including the compliance milestones and hurdles involved in achieving what seems like science fiction. Living like the Jetsons requires a deep dive into the various compliance issues that surround such a life.
Technological advances in aviation have turned what was once a matter of science fiction into reality. With that increase in technology comes a need for regulation of those technologies and their integration into daily lives. In 2016, the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) finalized its first iteration of the rules that would begin to mold how drones are used.
A basic understanding of aviation regulations helps to understand some of the most basic requests airlines make of their passengers. Air travel is hailed as one of the safest modes of transportation not only because of the advancements in technology and the training that the aviators go through before they get a seat in the cockpit, but also because of the many regulations that bind it. Understanding the basis of a particular regulation is necessary to elucidate why the requirements exist, although the pressures of travel on passengers may make them seem arbitrary or unwarranted.
A 2010 regulation heightened the in-flight hour requirements for ‘First Officers’ (i.e., copilots) from 250 hours to 1500 hours. Advocacy for this regulation came from the families of Colgan Air Flight 3407, a fatal jetliner crash which the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determined was caused by pilots failing to respond to warnings that the airplane was about to stall. However, years into the implementation of the 1500 hours rule, the regulation has shown only questionable increases in flight safety. Critics argue that debatable increases in passenger safety do not offset the sharp increase in costs associated with pilot training. Instead, airlines have figured out a way to circumvent this questionably inefficient regulation by sacrificing commercial efficiency.
The 1500 Hours Rule requires first officers to have at least 1500 hours of total flight time for licensure to fly commercial aircraft. The 2010 regulation boosted the flight time requirement for first officers from 250 to 1500 hours. Due to the heightened experience requirements, regional airlines have grounded flights and reduced their services, as they have not had sufficient qualified pilots to sustain the flights.