Second day of NTSB hearing
On the second day of a hearing by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) into a February air crash that killed 49, revelations show that long commutes, low salaries, and pilot fatigue constituted a “winking and nodding” at passenger safety.
After a series of critical pilot errors, the Continental Connection Flight 3407 crashed as it approached Buffalo Niagara International Airport on February 12th. All onboard and one man on the ground died.
Colgan Air ran the regional twin-engine turboprop under contract for Continental.
First Officer, 24-year-old Rebecca Lynne Shaw was paid $16,254 a year, about $23 an hour. She lived with her parents near Seattle and commuted to Newark, New Jersey to start work.
Early in her employment with Colgan, she had taken an additional part-time job in a coffee shop.
The night before the fatal flight, the New York Times reports that she rode in the cockpit of a FedEx jet for a red-eye flight leaving Seattle at 8 p.m., traveling to Memphis where she rested in a crew lounge. She then took another FedEx jet to Newark where she reported to duty for the evening flight.
Colgan’s vice president for flight operations told the NTSB that crew lounges are not a substitute for a full night’s rest.
Captain Marvin Reslow of Lutz, Florida, logged into a computer from the Colgan crew room in Newark at 3 a.m. the night before the flight, reports AP.
Even though Colgan requires pilots to maintain a place to sleep nearby and not travel the day the duty flight begins, the vice president of operations conceded that doesn’t always happen.
NTSB investigators say commuting from far distances was the norm for 93 of the 137 pilots employed by Colgan.
Another executive for the airline said that employees often don’t stay at the commuter airlines longer than a year or two, which is disincentive to living near the airline hub.
Attorney Justin T. Green, of Kreindler & Kreindler LLP, which is representing 12 families who lost loved ones, tells IB News, “What we have is an industry that basically survives, that pilots are willing to work for nothing, hoping they soon will not have to work for someone like Colgan. I don’t think any of us have heard of it this bad.”
Colgan captains are reported to earn about $55,000 a year.
Both pilot and first officer Shaw are heard yawning on the voice recorder.
The New York Times reports that Federal Aviation Administration scientist, Tom Nesthus, talked about fatigue and impairment at the hearing.
Trouble concentrating is just one result of fatigue, he said. Judgment may be off, and the crew may be unable to understand information coming in from multiple sources.
The pilots are heard conversing about their inexperience flying in icy conditions in the final minutes of the flight of the Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 as it begins to descend too quickly. Both appear surprised by a stall warning.
Then the captain failed to follow procedure, pulling up on the nose of the aircraft instead of down to improve airspeed. The plane then goes into a stall when the wings were unable to generate lift because of the angle and speed.
Board member Kitty Higgins said fatigue has been a factor in other crashes.
"When you put together the commuting patterns, the pay levels, the fact that the crew rooms aren't supposed to be used (for sleeping) but are being used — I think it's a recipe for an accident, and that's what we have here," Higgins said as reported by AP.
First Officer Shaw and Captain Renfro had fewer than 1,000 hours of flight time combined. Most major commercial airline carriers require pilots to have 2,000 hours of combined flight time.
In addition, Capt. Renslow didn’t list three times he failed a hands-on proficiency exam.
Daniel O. Rose, with Kreindler & Kreindler, says in a statement, “According to Colgan, a Captain with 107 hours in the aircraft and with five failed check rides in his file met or exceeded the FAA’s standards – this, if true, demonstrates that the FAA standards are bare minimums which do not ensure passenger safety.”
Colgan Air has maintained its pilots meet federal training guidelines.
Green adds, “It is alarming. Between the two pilots they had to have a combined 75 hours in the airplane. That’s all.”
He adds, “When I book an airplane flight, I always check the equipment and weather conditions. If the forecast is questionable, I’ll go the next day or rebook. I would not fly a turbo-prop in ice with a regional airline.”
The hearings conclude Thursday and the NTSB is expected to have a final report issued on the doomed flight by early next year. #