1997 Year-End Wrap-Up
SPECIAL REPORT. The year saw no shortage of aviation news with which we could fill AVflash and NewsWire to overflowing. Good and bad, joyous and sad, funny and tragic, and sometimes downright silly...it just keeps on coming. Looking back, we thought we'd wrap up the year by selecting the most significant aviation news stories of 1997 (our Top 10 list), make a few very special year end awards, and remember the passing of a few friends.
10. John Denver Crash
The death of a celebrity in an aircraft
crash will always make headlines. Couple that with the celebrity being the pilot, the
aircraft being a homebuilt and questions raised about the pilot's medical and certificate
status as well as his competency and all bets are off. No other General Aviation accident
this past year so captured the attention of the general media, or caused more pilots to be
asked questions from a public looking for answers to the often irrelevant questions raised
by TV and the newspapers.
9. Military Crash Rash
While fiscal 1997 turned out to be one of the safest
years ever for U.S. military aviation, from the perspective of public relations they blew
at the end when a series of unrelated military crashes in the last few weeks of the fiscal
year resulted in a politically opportune stand down for all the services. It did serve as
a stark reminder that military flying is not to be taken for granted, and that our
military pilots pay the ultimate price of freedom on a regular basis. No matter how hard
everyone tries, some will always sacrifice themselves, if they are to be ready when called
8. A-10 Goes AWOL
When Capt. Craig Button disappeared in his A-10 during a routine
training mission with a pair of live 500 lb. bombs just as the Oklahoma City bombing trial
got underway in Denver, the conspiracy theorists had a field day second only to TWA 800.
Then again, they never did find those bombs. Button's disappearance, the search, discovery
of the crash site and recovery operations provided weeks of news and held the community's
collective interest. It's not everyday someone makes off with one of Uncle Sam's war toys.
7. DOT/FAA Spending Bill
FAA funding was a contentious issue all year, and the fight over
funding is hardly over. Still, GA won a hard-fought victory when Congress directed the FAA
not to even think about charging user fees, or even study the issue. Well, perhaps it's
the thought that counts, the politicians at DOT and the FAA haven't dropped the issue, so
it won't die. The NCARC report issued recently only served to provide the impetus for a
renewed attempt next year.
6. ATC Outages and Miscues
Not a single story, but a continuing series of incidents
and conflicts kept the subject of ATC modernization and lack of reliability in the news.
For those who fly, ATC represents a critical link in the safety chain and continued
problems, coupled with the FAA's reflexive and lame "safety was not compromised"
excuses, has done nothing for either pilots' or controllers' confidence. Nor has the FAA's
and NATCA's fight over STARS and other ATC modernization issues done much to convince
anyone that that there is a satisfactory resolution on the horizon.
5. Boeing and McDonnell Douglas Merge
The big get bigger. While the European
community fumed, many on this side of the pond shed more than a few tears as one of the
great names in aviation disappeared. Few aircraft have had as great an impact as the DC-3,
but economics has no respect for history or management errors. In the end, MacDac
swallowed its not inconsiderable and well earned pride and the white knight Boeing made
off with the spoils.
4. FAR Part 61 Rewrite Issued
There are few of our subscribers who were not affected by the
rewrite of Part 61. To the relief and surprise of many, the FAA actually seemed to listen
to much of the critical input it received when the NPRM was issued, though the final rule
surely didn't satisfy every concern we and others had. Then, even after they issued the
"final" rule, they managed to make a mess of it by issuing a slew of
eleventh-hour changes and "clarifications," many of them quite substantive in
nature, just days before the new rules went into effect. It caused widespread confusion
and served to further erode the aviation community's respect for and trust in the FAA.
3. Meigs Field Reopens
Was it a victory or only a temporary reprieve? The
Friends of Meigs put up an incredible fight with lots of support from AOPA, the Governor
of Illinois and others, and Meigs finally did reopen, albeit with only a five-year
reprieve. In truth, the fight has only begun and this was just a battle won, not the war.
2. TWA 800
A week didn't pass without some TWA
800-related story making headlines. We have been, and continue to be inundated with e-mail
from those who feel they have the answer to the still unanswered question,
"how?" The answer may never be known and, like the assassination of President
Kennedy, the issue may never die and we may never get answers that satisfy everyone. We
wouldn't be surprised to see TWA 800 make our 1998 Top 10.
1. Jane Garvey Becomes FAA Administrator.
President Clinton named Garvey after the FAA
drifted for eight months without a pilot in the left seat. In the end, we still didn't
have a pilot in the left seat. Garvey is the first administrator to serve a five year term
(at least she can if she decides to) and, as such, her appointment carries even greater
weight than previous ones. Her attitudes and lack of aviation experience will have
far-reaching effects on all of us who are involved in aviation.
Penguin Award: FAA Administrator and non-pilot, flightless Jane Garvey.
Eagle Award: Linda Finch, who recreated Amelia Earhart's last flight, and then some.
Black Crow Award: Mary Schiavo, who will say anything to scare the public and keep herself in the public eye to sell her book and promotional appearances.
Gooney Bird Award for the Most Misguided Government Action: Gore Commission anti-terrorism recommendations, which arose out of misguided terrorism hysteria following the TWA 800 explosion. (This was a tough competition!)
Worst Enemy Of GA Award: The FAA's Regulation and Certification Group (AVR), particularly those charged with overseeing the STC and Form 337 Field Approval process.
Best Friends of GA Award: DOT, FAA's Airports Program Office, and the Gore Commission. As more and more politically-motivated security measures are heaped on the airline-flying public with their increased delays and attendant aggravation we predict that many people who might never have considered it otherwise will discover the benefits of General Aviation.
Next-Best Friends of GA Award: The airlines, who have decided to limit carry-on baggage beyond most passengers' threshold of pain.
Understatement Of The Year: Richard Branson commenting upon his round-the-world-attempt balloon inadvertantly lifting off without him (or anyone else), "I could see it out of my hotel window rising very quickly and I realized that somehow or other I should have been with it, so something had gone horribly wrong."
Worst Place To Receive AVflash: AOL wins this dubious distinction.
Here is a short and hardly-complete list of notables that left us in 1997. We feel poorer for their passing, but richer for them having been part of aviation and our lives.
Walter Addems barnstormer, UAL chief pilot
Olive Ann Beech Beech Aircraft matriarch
Col. John R. Boyd Wrote the book on modern air combat maneuvers, father of the F-16, military tactician
Norm Colvin "Mr. Bonanza"
Jeff Ethell Warbird expert, writer, historian
Max Karant GA advocate, AOPA Pilot editor, record-setting pilot
Leo Loudenslager Champion aerobatic pilot