The Issue With Pilots

By | May 14, 2009
Colgan Air
Image via Wikipedia

Over the years, a large number of accidents were as a result of pilot error. Pilots are fallable…indeed all humans are fallible. It is why we have created safety systems…autopilot is the best example.

The National Transportation Safety Board hearings on the Continental Connection flight that crashed outside Buffalo in February 12. The flight was operated by Colgan Air, a regional carrier. The hearings revealed that the pilot continued to “pull back on the controls to raise the plane’s nose during the entire seven seconds that an emergency system called a stick-shaker was warning the crew about an impending stall. The normal reaction to such a warning is to lower the nose in order to gain speed.

The co-pilot had less than a year with Colgan, and had done most of her training in the southwest, where icing is not a significant problem. Colgan witnesses said that about 5% of its pilots fail flight tests annually. Testimony indicated that the crew may have been suffering from excessive fatigue. The first officer had three days off before the flight, but commuted through the night from Seattle, catching rides on connecting Fed Ex flights to get to Newark that day. The captain had nearly a full day off, but he had been sleeping in the Newark crew lounge, against Colgan regulations.

The issue with pilots of regional carriers is that they are overworked and underpaid, especially proportional to the training requirements needed to do what they do. These airlines compete for contracts from bigger carriers to operate feeder service using the bigger airline’s name. Hopefully, the situation will cause the FAA to institute stricter regulation and training at these regional airlines.

Statistics are a funny thing. Are we safer in a larger plane? We’ll leave that up to other pundits. But airlines are under such pressure to keep fares down, keep costs down, and make profit that we doubt they will stop trying to cut corners on safety any time soon.

Twenty years ago this month, on May 25th, 1979, American Airlines flight 191 crashed during takeoff, killing nearly 300 people. The FAA fined American a half-million dollars for improper maintenance procedures, but the insurance settlement for the aircraft gave them twenty-five million. Food for thought. It seems that every time we allow lapses to occur, incidents happen…be them in maintenance, as in the AA191 crash, or pilot error, in this latest one. In the end, it is all about the money.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]