On April 28, 1988, a Boeing 737 operated by Aloha Airlines experienced an explosive decompression and structural failure at 24,000 feet. An eighteen foot section of the fuselage, from floor line to ceiling, was sheared off during flight and a member of the crew was lost. This dramatic accident caused the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to intensify its efforts on aging airplanes and focused the concerns of the public and congress on the safety of aging airplanes used in commercial transportation.
After the Aloha accident, the FAA established separate programs to address aging on both large transport and commuter airplanes used in air transportation. The Aging Commuter Airplane Program addresses those airplanes used in regional, scheduled, fare-paying, passenger, service,…the fleet commonly called commuters. Regional air carriers provide service to many medium and smaller communities not serviced by large transport airplanes.
This paper describes FAA's aging commuter airplane program and provides a snap-shot of the existing commuter fleet. It describes the development of the program and compares the commuter program with FAA's program to address aging large transport airplanes. It lists recent congressional actions addressing aging airplanes, summarizes the regulatory history of structural substantiation methods for commuter sized airplanes, identifies needed regulatory and policy changes, and provides insight into the future direction of the program.