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FAA Orders Small Planes to Stay Farther Behind 757s

August 17, 1996|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

WASHINGTON — New rules will require small aircraft and Boeing 757s to stay farther apart while flying, the Federal Aviation Administration announced Friday.

The announcement came two years after the FAA was criticized by federal officials for ignoring warnings about the potential danger of wake turbulence created by Boeing 757s, and after two fatal accidents claimed 13 lives.

Small aircraft traveling behind 757s will have to stay 5 nautical miles away beginning Saturday, instead of the previous 4, the FAA said. The change is expected to reduce hazards caused by "wake vortices," tornado-like winds created as a jet passes through the atmosphere.

In addition, the FAA broadened the definition of smaller aircraft. Under the old rules, aircraft were classified as "small" if they weighed less than 12,500 pounds. Under the new rules, aircraft weighing less than 41,000 pounds will be classified as "small."

"I am confident that the new wake vortex separation standards will improve aviation safety," said FAA Administrator David Hinson.

In December 1993, a crash killed five people in Santa Ana, Calif., as a corporate jet was attempting to land at John Wayne Airport behind a 757. A previous accident in Billings, Mont., took eight lives.

After the Santa Ana crash, internal FAA documents surfaced that disclosed that the FAA had been warned for years that it should lengthen the distance between smaller aircraft and 757s, which produce powerful wake turbulence. At the time of the Santa Ana crash, the FAA required 3 miles of separation.

Critics said the FAA was reluctant to increase separation because doing so could result in delays that could result in lost revenue for airlines. The FAA said it had not acted because there was no proof of a problem.

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