Colgan Air Q400 investigation not so simple either

Colgan Q400 crash.jpg

That Turkish Airlines investigation in the previous post isn’t the only one turning out to be more subtle in terms of pilot performance than first impressions suggested.

In a couple of weeks time the US NTSB will hold its public hearing on the Colgan Air Bombardier Q400 crash at Buffalo back in February. I understand it’s going to be a messy business that will shine a light into some shady corners of the regional airline business.

On the one hand you can expect confirmation that icing had not verymuch to do with what happened and that the crew’s performance was notall it might have been.

But you may also hear some fairly startling details about the lifestylesof regional pilots, especially junior ones. Their salaries for examplewill be a surprise to a lot of people, and once you know that figureyou won’t be surprised to learn how tricky it is for them to live inNew York.

And then you can imagine how they get round that, and think about howwell you’d fly an aircraft (or drive a car for that matter) if you hadthe sort of commute that they often do.

Well, get a base somewhere else then, you might say. But of coursebases have been opening and closing quite a bit, and more often thelatter. So then what? And most importantly, whose responsibility is itto manage that and watch out for fatigue?

Of course it’s up to the pilot, but what corporate culture do thesepeople work in? Can you really declare that your’re fatigued? What’sthe sick-leave policy like if you’ve got a heavy cold say?

Of course those are only two holes in the cheese, there should still beplenty of protection thanks to training. So just how good is thetraining? Well, these folks are licensed, so it must be reasonable -but is reasonable actually good enough?

And is the FAA really on the case as the years roll by?

I was able to discuss this with both management (not Colgan) and union people in the US last week and their opinions were far apart. Management point, not unreasonably I suppose, to the statistical safety record and point out that pilots go into this stuff voluntarily with eyes open. Unions complain about young, keen pilots being forced into situations that are not good for them or anyone else.

I think the NTSB is going to be treading a fine line when it eventually gets round to drafting the report.

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