WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal officials said Tuesday they will beef up inspection of pilot training programs at regional airlines in response to safety concerns raised by the crash of a regional airliner in New York in February.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Federal Aviation Administrator Randy Babbitt said in a statement they will also hold a meeting with the airline industry — both regional and major carriers — next week to seek better pilot training, cockpit discipline and other safety improvements.
Babbitt said it was clear from the crash of a regional airliner near Buffalo, N.Y., on Feb. 12 that safety needs to be improved.
Testimony at a National Transportation Safety Board hearing last month revealed that a series of critical errors by the captain and co-pilot preceded the crash of Continental Express Flight 3407 as it neared Buffalo Niagara International Airport on Feb. 12. The plane experienced an aerodynamic stall before plunging to the ground, killing all 49 aboard and one man in a house on the ground.
The flight was operated for Houston-based Continental by Colgan Air Inc. of Manassas, Va. Testimony at the hearing indicated the flight's captain may not have had hands-on training on a critical cockpit safety system. The cockpit voice recorder showed the co-pilot describing her lack of experience flying in icy weather not long before the crash.
The NTSB investigation has also raised concern that pilot fatigue may have been a factor in the crash. The co-pilot, Rebecca Shaw, lived near Seattle with her parents and had commuted all-night to get to Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, where Flight 3407 originated. The captain, Marvin Renslow, commuted to work from his home in Tampa, Fla. It's not clear where either of them slept the night before the crash or how much sleep they received.
Testimony at the hearing indicated they may have tried to snatch sleep in a crew lounge at the airport in violation of company policy. The pair were chit-chatting just before the crash, which may have prevented them from realizing the airspeed of the twin-engine turboprop had dropped dangerously low.
Jeff Skiles, the co-captain of the US Airways flight that made a safe emergency landing in the Hudson River in January, said most regional airline pilots are well qualified but "there are cracks in the system."
Interviewed Tuesday on CBS' "The Early Show," Skiles said the current rest rules "are less restrictive than truck drivers work under. Once you've been on duty for 13 hours, you are about 500 percent more likely to make an error, and once you've been on duty for 16 hours, you have the response rate of somebody who is legally drunk."
Colgan officials testified at the hearing that Shaw, who had worked for the airline a little over a year, earned about $16,000 her first year. A company spokesman, Joe Williams, later said she earned $23,900. Colgan officials also testified that pilots with Renslow's experience typically earned about $55,000 a year; Williams said the correct figure was about $67,000.
A Senate panel is scheduled to hold a hearing Wednesday on FAA oversight of regional airlines; the House holds a hearing Thursday.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.
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