The Federal Aviation Administration told Congress last week that it has placed on the back burner plans to require so-called antimisting kerosene (AMK) as the fuel for passenger jetliners. AMK is the stuff that caught fire so spectacularly in the test jetliner crash at Edwards Air Force Base last month, before which Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Hanford Dole was talking of having a final regulation in place by next summer that would require AMK to help prevent such fires.
In a status report to the House aviation subcommittee, FAA Administrator Donald D. Engen wrote, in a bit of understatement, that "the preliminary results from the AMK portion of the Controlled Impact Demonstration were disappointing." Further, he said, "We plan to defer further regulatory action with regard to the use of AMK in air carrier aircraft at this time . . . . We anticipate that the decision concerning any future regulatory action will not be made until mid-1985." TOO-LOGICAL-TO-HAPPEN DEPARTMENT . . .
Two of the FAA's ablest civil servants have changed jobs.
Walter S. Luffsey, for years the associate administrator for aviation standards -- FAA-ese for the official who decides whether airplanes are put together well enough to fly and whether airlines are operating safely -- has returned to his FAA roots, the air traffic control system.
This week he replaced retiring Raymond J. Van Vuren as associate administrator for air traffic. The top control job presents Luffsey with an enormously complex and challenging assignment in the FAA's most visible and most controversy-ridden area.
He is the first air traffic chief in memory who did not step into the job directly from controller ranks. He doubtless was chosen partly because of his reputation of keeping his counsel and being a good person to work for, although he is also very much a member of aviation's old-boy network. Study after study has found employe relations to be a significant problem in the air traffic service.
Moving up to replace Luffsey is his long-time deputy, Anthony J. Broderick, who has a reputation for, among other things, being able to reduce highly technical language to real English. Broderick was greeted his first week on the job with trying to figure out the best way to deal with the National Transportation Safety Board's recommendation to ground all U.S.-operated Embraer Bandeirantes commuter airliners immediately.
Broderick elected to recommend waiting until he knew what he was going to ask the airlines to do once they got the planes on the ground, a decision most aviation experts think was right based on the available data but one that carries considerable political risk. Engen bought the recommendation.
Broderick has the challenging job of tracking airline safety, training and maintenance practices while under growing budgetary pressure to cut his inspection staff. Another mission: checking out new airlines, which seem to come and go almost every week under deregulation. KEEP 'EM FLYING . . .
Once Secretary Dole clears her desk of the planned Conrail sale and budget issues, she plans to turn her attention to developing an aviation policy that clearly states the government's role in the changing world of airline deregulation. There are so many conflicting and competing currents -- consumer interests, airline growth, and airport and air traffic constraints and safety -- that she feels it is difficult to understand how they relate. A MYSTERY FOREVER? . . .
FAA and safety board experts think we may never know why that Eastern Air Lines jetliner flew into the Bolivian mountain New Year's Day, because it may be impossible to recover the plane's so-called black boxes and do the necessary on-site investigations.
It is summertime in Bolivia, but the plane is deep in snow at 21,000 feet. The mountain slopes at about 45 degrees and helicopters cannot land there. Rescue efforts have been abandoned because the risks are so great and it is clear there are no survivors. When planes fly into mountains, it's almost always because of navigational error, but there are a multitude of mechanical or human failings that can cause such an error. USEFUL OBSCURITY . . .
A little-known agency called the National Mediation Board just celebrated its 50th anniversary of solving labor disputes in the railroad and airline industries. The board's mediators are frequently most successful when they stay out of the public eye, seeking solutions to issues that have become even more difficult with the pressures of deregulation in all the transportation industries. NONSTANDARD LANGUAGE . . .
Finally, a story borrowed from NASA's valuable aviation-safety newsletter, "Callback," which borrowed it from a British safety letter called "Feedback." It concerns the old conflict between airline pilots, who don't like to be delayed, and air traffic controllers, who sometimes have to delay them.
The controller asked a pilot to circle. The captain radioed, "Do you realize it costs $500 every time we turn this aircraft through 180 degrees?"
The controller responded, "Well, give me a $1,000 turn then."