1. Boeing 747-8 Enters Service
After a long, delayed testing program the Boeing 747-8 finally entered commercial airline service this year. In October, the first 747-8 was delivered to launch customer Cargolux. The aircraft was put into service within hours. It left the Boeing factory at Paine Field and flew to Seattle-Tacoma where it loaded up its first load of cargo to go back to Luxembourg. The new version of the “Queen of the Skies” features a brand new wing, a longer fuselage, and quieter, more fuel efficient engines. The Boeing 747-8i (passenger version) should be delivered to launch customer Lufthansa early next year.
2. Air Traffic Controller’s Sleeping on the JobThere were multiple incidents involving sleeping controllers at our nation’s major airports this year. In February, a controller was found sleeping in a bed he made out of pillows at Knoxville’s McGhee Tyson International Airport’s Control Tower. The second incident occurred at Washington’s Reagan Airport in our nations most critical airspace. Two airliners were forced to land without any assistance or clearance when the radios went silent. The Controller had fallen asleep after working four midnight shifts in a row. The third incident occurred at Reno-Tahoe International Airport in Nevada. In April, a controller fell asleep as a medical plane carrying a critically ill patient was trying to land. The plane circled for a long time and eventually landed after obtaining clearance from the ARTCC. These incidents forced the FAA to add extra controllers to overnight shifts and create more strict rules about the hours controllers can work.
3. Elite Hockey Team killed in Russian Plane CrashIn September, a plane full of international hockey stars, including some from the NHL, crashed as it failed to become airborne while taking off from Russia’s Yavoslavl Airport. 43 people were killed in the crash. The cause of the crash, involving a chartered Yak-42 has been deemed as pilot error. One of the pilots feet were on the brakes as it was accelerating down the runway, not allowing the plane to reach takeoff speed. The plane burned about 500 yards from the end of the runway. The crash was devastating to the Hockey and Aviation communities alike.
4. United & Continental Receive Single Operating CertificateOn November 30th, the new United Airlines received its Single Operating Certificate from the FAA. This means that the two airlines are now recognized as a single carrier with the call sign “United.” The last Continental flight landed at Newark’s Liberty Airport on December 1st. This marks the end of an era for Continental and the beginning of a new one for what is now the world’s largest airline. The airlines are expected to completely merge early next year as frequent flier programs, websites, and airport check in are combined.
5. Airbus a380 hits Regional jet at JFKIn April, an Air France a380 super jumbo jet hit a Canadair Regional Jet operated by Comair for Delta Connection. When the wing of the a380 hit the tail of the CRJ-700 it spun the smaller plane more than 90 degrees. The CRJ was evacuated on the tarmac, while the a380 taxied to the gate where passengers deplaned. Luckily, there weren’t any serious injuries in the accident. Almost the entire rear section of the CRJ was damaged, while the a380 only received minor damage to its wingtip. It appears that the accident was the result of Ground Control error, as the controller shouldn’t have cleared the a380 to use that taxiway until the CRJ was out of the way. Video of the incident can be seen here.
6. Boeing 787 Enters ServiceIn October, the Boeing 787 finally entered commercial service with the first aircraft being delivered to All Nippon Airways of Japan. The first commercial flight, ANA7871 was flown between Tokyo’s Narita Airport and Hong Kong. The entrance of the “Dreamliner” into service didn’t come without frustration. Delivery was delayed 40 months from the original date due to various problems. The first 787 destinations for the United States will be San Jose, California and Seattle, Washington with flights to Tokyo Narita operated by ANA.
7. American Airlines declares BankruptcyIn November AMR, parent company of American Airlines and regional carrier American Eagle, declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy. American was one of the country’s only major carriers not to declare bankruptcy after 9/11. After years of operating at a loss and failure to negotiate new contracts with pilots, American finally succumbed to the poor economy and rising fuel prices. The airline will still operate as normal during the bankruptcy process. American had placed a record order for over 400 jets from Airbus and Boeing that it still plans to go through with. Stocks of AMR have tumbled about 90% this year and are currently at all time lows.
8. FAA Shuts DownThis summer about 4000 FAA employees were furloughed for two weeks when Congress failed to authorize a new bill regarding the administration. Luckily, Air Traffic Controllers worked as normal, preventing a major disruption to our Airspace System. The shutdown cost the agency almost $1 Billion in lost tax revenue as it couldn’t charge fees on ticket sales. Another shutdown is most likely to occur some time next year since Republicans and Democrats in Washington cant reach an agreement for funding the FAA.
9. Tragedy in RenoAt least ten people were killed, including the pilot, when a P-51 mustang crashed into a crowd of people at the Reno Air Races in Nevada. At least 70 others were injured in the crash. The aircraft was traveling at about 500 mph when it crashed into the VIP seating area on the tarmac. It appears that a part of the tail fell off moments before the crash, most likely causing it to go down. It also appears that the pilot may have saved many other lives as he steered the plane away from an even larger group of people. However, families of the victims have filed lawsuits against the pilot and the Reno Air Races.
10. Last Space Shuttle MissionNASA’s thirty-year space shuttle mission finally came to an end in August when STS-135, operated by Atlantis, landed at Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the last time ever. The space program has been a part of American culture for the last 3 decades and will be missed by many. The missions have allowed us to build the state of the art International Space Station. Discovery and Endeavor were retired earlier this year. The space shuttle program didn’t occur without tragedy. Challenger and Columbia never made it back to Earth, killing the entire crews of STS-51L and STS-107. Although NASA plans to develop new programs for space exploration, it has had to lay off many employees as funding from the government was greatly reduced.