The Federal Aviation Administration, moving to reduce the risk of airline crashes during takeoffs in wintry weather, issued more detailed ice-removal regulations Friday that will affect all airlines.
By Nov. 1, each airline must have developed a new de-icing program that includes formal training for pilots and ground crews on removing ice buildup from wings.
The agency also said it will reduce the time allowed for an aircraft to take off after its wings have been sprayed with a chemical de-icer and will pay for airport improvements on some busy taxiways to shorten the elapsed time between ice removal and takeoff.
FAA Administrator Thomas C. Richards said he was "acting to give airline flight crews the knowledge and guidance they need for safe winter operations." The government, he said, is "committed to deal effectively with the de-icing problem."
The buildup of ice on an aircraft's wings, which impedes its lift, has been a serious concern to aviation authorities for at least a decade, especially since the crash of an Air Florida jetliner into the Potomac River shortly after taking off from Washington's National Airport in January, 1982. Seventy-eight people died, and many survivors were pulled from the icy river by helicopters in a dramatic rescue operation.
An investigation showed that ice formation on the leading edge of the wings was a major factor, even though the aircraft had been sprayed with de-icer about 30 minutes before the crash. Experts later concluded that, depending upon weather conditions, a plane that does not depart within 20 minutes after being de-iced may be in jeopardy.
More recently, the crash of a departing USAir jetliner during a snowstorm at New York's LaGuardia Airport on March 22 was attributed to the same problem.
The crash of this Dutch-made Fokker F-28 4000 killed 27 people, although it had been de-iced twice before leaving the gate. It had waited in snow and freezing temperatures for nearly half an hour after its second de-icing, the National Transportation Safety Board found.
In all, the FAA found that 16 accidents in 10 years were attributed to this problem, many of them involving fatalities.
FAA officials said the new regulation for the first time establishes specific limits on how long and under what conditions an airplane can be exposed to snow or freezing rain before it has to be inspected or de-iced again. Some authorities fear that pilots in the past occasionally have chanced taking off in borderline weather conditions rather than lose their place on the runway by returning for a second de-icing.
The FAA's action was immediately hailed by the Air Transport Assn., the industry group that represents major airlines. The organization said the move "culminates months of hard work by industry and government officials to ensure safe winter operations."
The nation's airlines "are well on their way toward implementing the requirement for additional training in de-icing procedures," the association said.
The association's statement said it was particularly pleased with an FAA commitment to change air traffic control procedures to reduce the time aircraft wait between de-icing and takeoff and "we are pleased that the government will make funds available for the construction of secondary de-icing pads nearer the runway ends."