The Federal Aviation Administration came under attack from pilots today for alleged poor stewardship of equipment to alert them to severe weather.
Procedures are also inadequate to ensure that air traffic controllers tell pilots the most recent weather information, pilots testified today during the second day of the National Transportation Safety Board's hearing into the July 9 crash of Pan Am Flight 759, which killed 154 people.
Suddenly shifting winds, called wind shear, are widely suspected as the primary cause of the accident.
Representatives of the Air Line Pilots Association and Pan American World Airways complained to a series of FAA witnesses that one of the sensors that reports wind velocity and direction around Moisant Airport outside New Orleans was not working the day of the accident and that pilots had not been informed. That sensor is located in a swampy area west the airport, and was shot out several times by hunters in 1980, then not replaced until July 13, four days after the accident, according to testimony. It has since been shot out again.
The point ALPA is trying to make is that a wind reading west of the airport, in addition to readings available from five other sensors, might have helped the Pan Am captain decide not to take off to the east, as he did.
It was also learned at the hearing today that:
* No specific wind shear alert was given to Flight 759 when it was given permission to take off because, the controller said, "there was no wind shear alert at that [specific] time," although there had been several alerts in the preceding moments, some of which 759's crew heard. Procedures do not require the controller to inform the pilot of previous alerts.
The Pan Am crew had not received the most recent general weather information that is supposed to be recorded and updated once an hour and broadcast continuously. However, FAA has no procedures to assure that the pilot has listened to the most recent tape. In the New Orleans crash the pilot had listened to two-hour-old weather reports.
A safety board spokesman said that, when the press first reported the shot-out wind sensor, the National Rifle Association called the board to complain that the shooting was not done by hunters, but by vandals.