Langhorne Bond, Former FAA Boss, Dead at 84

FAA administrator from 1977 to 1981, Bond oversaw the rollout of computerized national air traffic control system, but will always be linked to Flight 191 crash in 1979.

Bond’s work on a computerized national air traffic control system led to the current ATC network. [File Photo: Adobe Stock]

Langhorne M. Bond, a former head of the FAA whose name has long been associated with the landmark 1979 crash of American Airlines Flight 191 in Chicago, died January 29. He was 84.

Bond was administrator of the FAA from 1977-1981 under President Jimmy Carter Jr. This was a busy time in aviation industry regulation. Air travel was booming during the 1970s and new widebody jets like the Boeing 747 and McDonnell Douglas DC-10—which entered service earlier in the decade—seemed to rule the skies.

Langhorne M. Bond [Courtesy: FAA]

For many people, the DC-10 would come to represent the dangers of flying when a faulty cargo door on a Turkish Airlines flight led to a crash in France that killed more than 340 people in 1974. Two years earlier, an American Airlines DC-10 suffered a similar cargo door failure and rapid depressurization over Windsor, Ontario, in Canada, but the pilot landed the damaged airplane in Detroit.

In 1979, on a Friday afternoon leading into the Memorial Day weekend, the left engine of an American Airlines DC-10, Flight 191, detached during takeoff. The airplane rolled to the left, out of control, and crashed less than a mile from the airport. A photo of the doomed jet seconds before the crash, at an altitude of perhaps 300 feet with its wings roughly perpendicular to the ground, haunted the flying public.

Bond soon grounded the U.S. DC-10 fleet after accident investigators found evidence suggesting improper maintenance had resulted in damage to the aircraft’s engine mounting system. After several weeks of further investigation and inspections, Bond allowed the aircraft to fly again. While his actions were decisive, some critics said the decision to reinstate the DC-10 took too long, while others argued it came too soon.

Bond oversaw the early phases of the agency’s rollout of a computerized national air traffic control system, which formed the foundation of the current ATC network.

“Langhorne was a charismatic administrator with a strong focus on safety and a deep love of all things aviation,” said Ed Bolen, president and CEO of the National Business Aviation Association. “His leadership at the FAA helped to establish the safety-driven foundation for which our national airspace system is known today.”

The son of William Langhorne Bond, an international aviation executive, Bond served as special assistant to the under the secretary of commerce for transportation from 1965 until the formation of the U.S. Department of Transportation in 1967.

Prior to his nomination as FAA administrator, Bond served as president of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials from 1975 to 1976, and as secretary of transportation in Illinois.

In 1999, the Air Traffic Control Association gave Bond its Glen A. Gilbert Memorial Award in recognition of his contributions to aviation safety.

Jonathan Welsh is a private pilot who worked as a reporter, editor and columnist with the Wall Street Journal for 21 years, mostly covering the auto industry. His passion for aviation began in childhood with balsa-wood gliders his aunt would buy for him at the corner store. Follow Jonathan on Twitter @JonathanWelsh4

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