Colgan Fallout: What's With The Secrecy?
While I was busy weaving my theory of evolving information technology and its impact on how we think about air crashes, the cause and effect was actually happening yesterday. In an unusual move—no doubt driven by the politics of smoking holes—the transportation department convened an urgent hearing to improve the oversight of pilot hiring.
Said Transpo Secretary Ray LaHood: "Some of the issues are far too important for us to sit around and to wait on the NTSB report." Translated: So, what the hell, let's just charge off and make decisions before the investigation is done. Newly installed FAA chief Randy Babbitt played along by saying some of the practices in the regional airline industry aren't acceptable. Hey, no kidding. To be fair, Babbitt's statement is spot on and a review of the industry independent of the Colgan crash is long overdue.
Following all this, the hearing was promptly closed to the press and public. Excuse me? What we have here is a page from the Dick Cheney manual of governance. Do everything behind closed doors and if you don't like it, sue me. As I recall, this administration promised better, but it looks like thus far at the agency level, some things haven't changed. My view is that the government ought to work entirely in the sunshine, with the exception of highly sensitive military and national security issues. But this isn't one of those.
What did emerge and relevant to what Babbitt may have been talking about when he cited unacceptable practices, was fatigue as a possible related cause. The mother of the deceased co-pilot left the hearing claiming that the two crew persons were being made scapegoats. But any pilot who has read the transcript and reviewed the FDR summary would be hard pressed to call the crew's performance even up to basic standards of airmanship. Whether that was brought on by fatigue or just lack of skill will be addressed, I suppose, in that NTSB report that Ray LaHood doesn't want to wait for.
What I'll be most interested in finding out is whether the Captain's numerous checkride failures are significant or just noise in the bandwidth. When I was flying Part 135 in the late 1980s, I flew with a number of professional airline pilots who were moonlighting in the charter biz. My impression then was that a checkride bust was a big deal and two busts got you a ticket out the door. Have things changed? Are they the same in the majors? Or do the regionals work to different standards on busts? That's probably what Babbitt was getting at.
We shall see. Now, if Mr. LaHood would kindly emerge from his undisclosed secure location, we might find out.