1956 Grand Canyon Collision: the Creation of the Faa Essay
In today’s world, flying is generally an extraordinarily safe experience. Within the last five years, only one fatal plane crash has occurred. This is an impressive record considering that more than 87,000 flights can be found in United States airspace on any given day (NATCA). However, air safety has not always been as advanced as it is currently. Past accidents and collisions have triggered crucial safety improvements over the years. The 1956 plane crash over the Grand Canyon was a major catalyst for change as it caused the creation the Federal Aviation Agency.
The sky was clear on the morning of June 30, 1956 when two planes, the TWA Super Constellation and the United DC-7, departed Los Angeles International Airport within three minutes of each other. Both aircrafts had “been flying in uncontrolled airspace, under visual flight rules without the guidance of any air traffic controllers, radar or even official flight plans” (Chang). Both pilots had requested to fly in undesignated airspace thus taking responsibility for the safety of themselves and those on board.
Ninety minutes after leaving the airport in LA, in an effort to give their passengers a better view of the Grand Canyon scenery, the DC-7’s left wing and propellers ripped into the Connie’s tail. The air carriers “drew slowly together in perfect visibility, being apparently within visual range of one another for many minutes; but the TWA DC-7 was below and in front of the United Constellation, and neither pilot could see the other aircraft…there were no survivors”(Machol). The crash killed all 128 occupants aboard the two planes.
And, since the crash occurred while the pilots were flying under visual flight rules in uncongested airspace, the “accident dramatized the fact that, even though United State’s air traffic had more than doubled since the end of World War II, little had been done to mitigate the risk of midair collisions”(FAA. gov). The news of the accident traveled quickly. Congress immediately took action and quickly appropriated $250 million for the upgrade of the nation’s airway system and for the improvement of air safety.
Although not the immediate or initial result, this crash triggered the creation of the FAA in 1958 when congress passed the Federal Aviation Act. In response to the crash, in 1957, Congress passed the Airways Modernization Act that would establish the Airways Modernization Board (AMB) headed by General Elwood Quesada. Legislators were split on the sufficiency of the AMB to meet the long-term demands of aviation safety regulation.
But soon, another catastrophe would occur that would diminish the number in legislators who were in favor of delaying legislative action. On May 20, 1958, a military jet and a commercial airliner collided in Brunswick, Maryland. This pushed legislature to quickly reconsider their delay of action and also “impressed upon legislative proponents the need to unify the control of both military and civilian use of the airspace over the United States” (Chang).
The very next day, on May 21, 1958, Senator A. S. “Mike” Moroney introduced a new bill to create the Federal Aviation Agency to “provide for the safe and efficient use of national airspace”(FAA. gov). Within two months, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Federal Aviation Act, which “transferred the Civil Aeronautics Authority’s functions to a new independent Federal Aviation Agency responsible for civil aviation safety,”(Nolan).
The purpose of the Federal Aviation Act was to “establish and run a broad air traffic control system to maintain safe separation of all commercial aircraft through all phases of flight. It was also given jurisdiction over all other safety related matters for aviation” (Chang). The Federal Aviation Act of 1958 created the Federal Aviation Agency and empowered it to oversee and regulate safety in the airline industry and possess control over civilian and military use of the airspace in the United States.
The Federal Aviation Act states that it is an act made “ to continue the Civil Aeronautics Board as an agency of the United States, to create a Federal Aviation Agency, to provide for the regulation and promotion of civil aviation in such a manner as to best foster its development and safety, and to provide for the safe and efficient use of the airspace by both civil and military aircraft, and for other purposes…. ”(Federal Aviation Act). Eventually, this law “created the Federal Aviation Agency (which later became the Federal Aviation Administration) and gave it broader authority to combat aviation hazards.
It also gave the FAA sole responsibility for a common civil and military system of navigation and air traffic control”(NATCA). Although the Civil Aeronautics Agency “denied responsibility for the accident, investigations revealed the CAA’s air traffic control system was insufficient to offer positive separation for all airplanes flying across the country”(Chang). Prior to this event, congress and other legislators had previously cut the budget for the Civil Aeronautics Agency, but the press extensively covered the tragedy in the Grand Canyon as well as the crash in New Brunswick, and the US population was highly concerned.
As the stories continued to be shown on the news across the country, the public became more aware of how necessary it was to improve the system that provided aircraft separation in the increasingly crowded skies. Congress allotted $250 million for “a massive ATC modernization plan…used to purchase new radar surveillance equipment, to open new control towers, and to hire more air traffic controllers. ”(Nolan). Two years after the crash over the canyon, the Civil Aeronautics Administration was dissolved and the Federal Aviation Act of 1958 was passed into law.
Both crashes stimulated the greatest advances and changes in aircraft safety. Who knows when our nation would have decided to upgrade our air traffic system without feeling the whiplash from these horrible events. Thanks to the FAA, Our safety aboard aircrafts today is reliable and strict. Unfortunately, the crash over the canyon was a national tragedy…. Fortunately, the influence of the crash is felt, for the good, every time we step on a plane today.
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