Non-Scheduled Air Carriers and Lack of Dispatchers
All United States scheduled air carriers in the 1940s operated under Certificates of Public Convenience and Necessity, and the CAB intended this requirement to ensure safe operations (Stringer, 2015). The CAB required airlines employ adequate numbers of trained dispatchers. The CAB checked this through operational oversight. But after World War II ended, many enterprising pilots returned to America and started “non-scheduled” operations, carrying passengers on popular routes, with very little oversight from the Civil Aeronautics Board. According to Stringer, (2015) newly formed “un-certificated” supplemental operators took advantage of a loophole allowing operations as non-scheduled charter flights without the requirement to obtain a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity.
"In 1946, all companies employing large transport aircraft in irregular service were informed they would be subjected to a safety inspection in order to obtain a letter of registration identifying them as an approved large irregular carrier. The letter of registration was not the Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity issued to the scheduled airlines, but a document verifying that the company was registered with the CAB and in compliance with safety regulations. The Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA)…initiated the carrier examinations but did not have enough inspectors to accomplish the job quickly. Meanwhile, the non-skeds [sic] that were already operating in August 1946 were allowed to continue operating until the CAA could get around to inspecting them." (Stringer, 2015)
To save costs and simplify operations, non-scheduled operators did not employ dispatchers. They relied instead on their flight crews to perform all preflight planning and operational oversight of flights. A series of accidents resulted from this chaotic environment. These accidents demonstrated the crucial role of dispatchers in facilitating safe operations.
On September 5, 1946, a Trans-Luxury Airlines DC-3 crashed near Elko, Nevada. In its accident report, the CAB (1946c) described the crew’s original flight plan from Cheyenne, Wyoming to Reno, Nevada with an alternate of Sacramento, California (pp. 7-8). This plan was not feasible at the altitude filed with the available fuel onboard (CAB, 1946c, pp. 7-8). The flight crew landed to refuel at Elko and flew an approach in ground fog, continuing below authorized minimums, hitting the top of a ridge. The CAB (1946c) cited the lack of dispatch facilities as a contributory cause to the accident (pp. 9-10). The crew could not access any weather observer at Elko or a dispatcher to provide updates to the flight to suggest an airport with better weather for refueling.
Accidents involving non-scheduled supplemental air carriers continued to occur through the 1940s and 1950s. None of these air carriers utilized dispatchers. Flight crews alone exercised operational control. These four accidents plus the Trans-Luxury Airlines accident resulted in 67 fatalities, all of which could have been avoided with proper operational control and adequate dispatch oversight. Each is linked to the original CAB accident report for further reading.
August 15, 1949: Transocean Air Lines // 8 fatalities // Fuel exhaustion due to lack of adequate preflight planning
May 27, 1950: Regina Cargo Airlines // 2 fatalities // Improper loading over maximum gross weight, no flight manifest
December 29, 1951: Continental Charters // 26 fatalities // Failure to obtain preflight weather information and inadequate preflight planning
December 22, 1954: Johnson Flying Service // 10 fatalities // Fuel exhaustion due to lack of adequate preflight planning
In 1963, Harvard Law Review documented serious safety issues at supplemental non-scheduled air carriers (p. 1459). Between 1960 and 1961, seven accidents resulted in the deaths of 255 people (Harvard Law Review, 1963, p. 1459). The 1960 crash of an Arctic-Pacific C-46F killed 20 members of a college football team during an attempted takeoff in near zero visibility. The aircraft was over 2,000 pounds over maximum gross weight (“CAB Cites Early Liftoff,” 1962, p.79). Lack of operational control in addition to flight planning errors contributed significantly to the accident chain of events. Just over a year later, the crash of an Imperial Airlines Lockheed Constellation at Richmond, Virginia killed 74 army recruits due to fuel mismanagement. The crew’s lack of training and knowledge resulted in the loss of power in three of the four engines (CAB, 1962, p. 1). Harvard Law Review reported that these two crashes caused “a national furor.” A subsequent congressional investigation concluded that more regulation by the newly-created Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) could promote safer operations for supplemental air carriers (Harvard Law Review, 1963, p. 1460). On August 22, 1962, the FAA proposed regulations adding flight following systems for supplemental air carriers “to maintain better operational control of their aircraft and thus conduct safer operations” (p. 3).
The FAA swiftly issued new regulations. It revised Part 42 of the Civil Air Regulations on July 8, 1963, with an effective implementation date of November 11, 1963. The revision included rules for certification and operation of supplemental air carriers (FAA, 1963a, p. 1). Prior to the 1963 revision, Part 42 required no dispatcher oversight or operational control system for supplemental air carriers. Recognizing the significant safety advantages of established dispatch systems, the FAA added regulations to Part 42 requiring “each operator…to establish a dispatch system using certificated dispatchers, or an approved flight following system” (FAA, 1963b, p. 7125). §42.38 listed the requirements for the flight following system: "An operator shall show that it has an approved flight following system…adequate for the proper monitoring of the progress of each flight taking into consideration the operations to be conducted…to insure the proper monitoring of the progress of each flight…and to insure that the pilot in command is provided with all information necessary for the safety of the flight." (FAA, 1963b, p. 7134)
§ 42.381 went a step further to define operational control for supplemental air carriers. “No flight shall be started under a flight following system without specific authority from the person authorized by the operator to exercise operational control over the flight” (FAA, 1963b, p. 7153). Under §42.350 the director of operations and the pilot in command shared operational control of supplemental air carrier flights. With the advent of flight following systems, the air carrier’s director of operations could delegate the operational control functions to flight followers or dispatchers, but the director of operations retained responsibility for those functions (Federal Register, 1963b, pp. 7150-7151). Current 14 CFR Part 121 regulations still contain these rules for flight following and operational control for supplemental air carriers. Many modern supplemental air carriers employ certificated dispatchers who fill the roles of flight followers and who continue to enhance safety through operational control.