Executives at US regionals scrutinise safety

Salt Lake City
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High-level management from US regional airlines had a nearly round-the-clock meeting 19 May to engage in a detailed self-assessment of safety practices in response to issues raised by the investigation of the Colgan Airways flight 3407 crash.

Hearings last week conducted by the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) examined the role of several factors --sterile cockpits, training, fatigue, commuting and crew lifestyles -- in the fatal accident of the Bombardier Q400 turboprop on 12 February.

Since the conclusions of the initial hearings safety practices of US regional airlines have come under scrutiny, spurring a decision by US legislators to launch their own probe.

At the annual Regional Airline Association convention this week in Salt Lake City this week heads of the group's member airlines met for nearly 18 hours specifically to discuss safety.

"They talked about the changed paradigm surrounding human factors, the next frontier in aviation safety," says RAA president Roger Cohen. "We need to consider psychological factors - why do highly trained professionals fail to follow their training and experience when faced with unusual situations."

Cohen highlights the "advanced technology of our airplanes and systems have evolved to such a high point, become so sophisticated and incredibly reliable that perhaps everyone - from flight crews to line managers to the CEOs themselves - have become too reliant on them, and we're not keeping our heads in the game at all times".

But he stresses concerns raised by the NTSB hearings are not systemic to the regional airline industry, rather, they reach across all facets of industry.

Cohen says he received a call this week from senior officials from the Air Transport Association of America (ATA) "indicating their shared belief these issues are industry wide" and include a wide range of factors.

Both US network and regional airlines plans to look collectively as those issues "as we always have", Cohen explains.

Responding to a question about the concerns raised over long-distance commutes during the hearings, Cohen says the association does not track stats on commuting.

But he highlights that US Airways Captain Chesley Sullenberger, who some regard as the "world's most successuful pilot", commuted from San Francisco to Charlotte. Sullenberger piloted the A320 that ditched into the Hudson River earlier this year.

The top level regional carrier executives also discussed ways to use information from data collection programmes such as flight operations quality assurance, aviation safety action programmes and flight data recorders.

"We're drowning in data points," says Cohen. "But are we, our employees, the FAA investing the time and people resources to translate that data into actions that improve our margin of safety?"