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Safety Gaps in Regional Carriers Highlighted

Posted by Jane Akre
Wednesday, February 03, 2010 11:56 AM EST
Category: On The Road
Tags: Flight Safety, Newark, FAA, NTSB, Pilot Fatigue, Regional Carriers, Continental

A final report on the crash of a flight over Buffalo points to the safety gaps of regional carriers, which dominate some markets.

Regional Carriers Dominate At Some Airports


IMAGE SOURCE: Colgan Air Q400 / Colgan Air, Inc.

A report on the regional carrier airline crash in Buffalo last year concludes that the pilots showed “complacency and confusion that resulted in catastrophe.”

50 people died when Continental Connection Flight 3407 near Buffalo crashed in icy conditions, killing 50 people.

“History is repeating itself,” National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Chair, Deborah Hersman told reporters, referring to characteristics of this accident that have been seen before.

With the exception of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, five of the six major airline crashes involving fatalities since January 2001, have involved regional airlines, according to the NTSB.

In as many as 650 communities, regional airlines are the only scheduled service. Media General News Service reports that last year, regionals carried nearly 160 million people, about 20 percent of all U.S. air service.

Pilot Fatigue

The Buffalo crash of Flight 3407 highlights the differences in safety between major airlines and regional carriers.

There, lower-paid pilots are more likely to fly fatigued, travel long distances to report to work, and receive inadequate training.

The flight was en route to Buffalo Niagara International Airport when the Bombardier Dash 8 Q 400 crashed into a house in Clarence Center, New York just short of the runway. 49 who died were on the plane and one was on the ground.

The flight stalled when the pilot pulled back on the control column after hearing an automated stall warning. Capt. Marvin Renslow should have pushed forward to gain speed. Investigators believe that could have saved the stalled flight. Renslow pulled back on the throttle three more times.

“That’s very unusual behavior and, quite frankly, I’m at a loss to explain it,” said Tom Haueter, who directs the NTSB’s Office of Aviation Safety.

Capt. Renslow had flown from Florida to Newark Liberty Airport, and co-pilot Rebecca Shaw, 24, had flown in from Seattle where she lived with her parents. She had reportedly slept in a crew room and was suffering from a cold.

“The big thing is fatigue” FAA spokeswoman Alison Duquette said.

Renslow and Shaw were engaged in cockpit conversation, the black box recorder shows, when their attention should have been on recovering from the stall and Shaw sent a text message from the cockpit before takeoff.

"Distractions caused by personal portable electronic devices affect flight safety because they can detract from a flight crew's ability to monitor and cross-check instruments, detect hazards, and avoid errors," the NTSB report says.

Safety Recommendations

The NTSB has issued 25 safety recommendations and will hold a public forum this spring on pilot and air traffic control high standards.

The FAA says in a statement that significant improvements in pilot professionalism, training and background checks have been made in the last year. The FAA plans to publish new rules on crew rest this spring and is in the process of rewriting airline training regulations.

The Airline Safety and Pilot Training Improvement Act of 2009 would tighten qualifications, records, crew-rest and training requirements for air-carrier pilots. It has passed the House and is under consideration in the Senate. The Regional Airline Association, a lobby for the industry says regional airlines are already implementing most of the safety improvements.

The association is not in favor of the bill’s provision to require new hires to have logged at least 1,500 hours of flight time. #

1 Comment

Posted by Christine Negroni
Thursday, February 04, 2010 11:29 AM EST

The role of fatigue almost didn't make it into the list of contributing factors in the Colgan crash. It was thoroughly debated at the hearing. Other issues were not addressed that that much depth. Regional airliners are involved in a disproportionately large share of aviation accidents in the United States.


Comments for this article are closed.

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