Was Buffalo Disaster A Glimpse Of The Future?

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This week's NTSB hearings on the Colgan Air crash have been all over the mainstream news, which means that many of us who fly, and/or work in the aviation industry in whatever capacity, are addressing questions from our friends and relatives about the safety of flight. Most people don't like riding on those "little" airplanes anyway -- meaning anything smaller than a 737 -- and when they hear that the pilots are underpaid and overtired, it makes them understandably uneasy.

The stark realities of airline jobs, especially for young pilots starting out on the regionals, may be old news to most of us, but it's something most passengers are unaware of or prefer not to think about. Long hours, low pay, constantly changing schedules, and long commutes make it hard for pilots to do their best. Managers who focus solely on the economic bottom line create unhealthy expectations. Instructors who teach only to FAA minimum standards are not being realistic.

The Colgan Air accident happened just a few weeks after the "Miracle on the Hudson," when a well-rested and experienced crew dealt successfully with the total loss of both engines on climb-out. A congressional hearing about that incident stands in stark contrast to this week's safety board hearing. That panel, which met in February, was in the enviable position of trying to learn from what went right. Capt. Chesley Sullenberger used his 10 minutes of testimony to plea for changes in the way pilots are treated by the airlines. "The single most important piece of safety equipment is a well-trained pilot," he said. "If future pilots are less experienced and less skilled, we will see negative consequences." Capt. Sullenberger added that he doesn't know one single airline pilot who wants to see his or her children choose that career. (Click here for a video of his remarks.)

I spent many hours in the jumpseat of 727 and DC-10 cockpits when I worked for a freight airline back in the last century. Those pilots would joke around plenty, but when it came time to preflight and fly, they were all business. That was my first introduction to the "sterile cockpit rule" and it was strictly adhered to. It's not easy to read the CVR transcript from the Colgan Air flight, and see how much idle chatter was taking place while nobody was watching the airplane.

So where will the airline pilots of the future come from? Will the profession find a way to attract the best and the brightest, even if the pay and benefits and schedules are not enticing? Do those years of slogging and poverty build character and allow the best to rise to the top, or are they just exhausting and disheartening -- and dangerous? There are no easy answers in sight, but maybe this week's hearings can remind us all that training to the minimums is never enough, and safety must always be our bottom line.

Comments (67)

It's gonna have to get worse. Most of the regional and low cost large airlines also defer or perform maintenance to the absolute minimum FAR standards. That leaves no safety margin in maintenance, crew training or crew rest (pilots AND mechanics). I predict we will see lots more accidents just like this one. Better think about more than ticket price next time you are shopping for air fare.

Posted by: Steve Zeller | May 16, 2009 1:45 PM    Report this comment

Just a note here on forum rules, please. We ask you to sign these posts with your real name. A legitimate opinion should have a name attached to it.


Paul Bertorelli
Editorial Director

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 17, 2009 8:46 AM    Report this comment

If you do the simple math on what pilots are paid X number of seats you will see that the cost of the pilots come out less than $2.00 per seat/trip. Who wouldn't pay two dollars extra for extra safety. But then consider, just exactly what is managed intelligently in the airline industry?
As far as this particular accident, integrity is doing the right thing when no one is looking. The time to talk about all the stuff this crew was talking about is when you are on the ground over a beer.

Posted by: Stuart Baxter | May 18, 2009 5:49 AM    Report this comment

The cockpit voice recorder with the timeline tells the story. The aircraft already had an icing problem causing increased weight and reduced lift when at 22:16:34 Capt.Marvin Renslow "Jesus Christ". Three seconds later at 22:16:37 Rebecca Shaw mentioned "I put the flaps up".

This was followed by a grunt and an expletive by Captain REnslow.

She PUT THE FLAPS UP ! Jumpin' Jehosiphat, where do we get such women?

Captain Ed Toner

Posted by: Ed Toner | May 18, 2009 7:16 AM    Report this comment

1. To Ed Toner: don't be a sexist d**k. The problem with the 1st officer wasn't her gender, it was her level of experience, training, fatigue and health.
(If you didn't mean to bring her gender into it: very poor choice of words).

2. I think we've all got the picture: airline management pay themselves bonuses while paying pilots little more than fast food servers, and subjecting them to schedules which leave them dangerously fatigued. If anyone can see a way out of this that doesn't involve some re-regulation of airlines, now would be the time to tell the rest of us.

Posted by: Ceri Reid | May 18, 2009 7:42 AM    Report this comment

In the current incidents experience is noted. I believe that the Hudson River landing in the water was successful as the pilot was trained as a naval aviator landing high performance jets on carriers almost at the stall. He had the experience to land the plane without power and not stall it... In the case of the Buffalo crash, anyone who has had ice experience knows not to lower the flaps, keep speed up etc. Were they landing on the autopilot and the stick shaker (stall warning) came on turned off the autopilot? Didn't see this but in ice you should not be flying on the autopilot - it runs out the elevator trim and the pilot doesn't see/feel the progress to trouble.

Posted by: Allan Bowes | May 18, 2009 8:04 AM    Report this comment

To Ed Toner: Based on their actions, it seems likely the crew believed the problem was tailplane icing. If they were correct, then she did exactly the *right* thing, and the mistake was to put the flaps down in the first place (which was ordered by the captain). Unfortunately, it appears that the captain missed the rapidly decreasing airspeed that led to a stall, and that tailplane icing wasn't really the issue. You need to review the NASA video on tailplane icing before you start badmouthing other pilots. And I agree with Ceri Reid that implying that her gender had anything to do with her decision is totally inappropriate.

Posted by: Jonathan Spencer | May 18, 2009 8:29 AM    Report this comment

We definitly need the training and experiece of the military pilots to feed the system, but they will be fading out. More paring experienced pilots with newbies will help. As for low pay and long hours, that is true in any profession. Doctors serve in internships and residenceis at low pay and long hours for many years before they can begin paying back their school debts. Good guys and gals are arriving on the scene with poor education from the govenment schools and lack the tools to analyze data, make logical decisions, and practice good judgment. Now the ecconomic squeze and heavier hand of centralized government will stall this even more. I don't know the answer. Developing better training protocols and more simulator work at all levels may help.

Posted by: JOHN P HEY | May 18, 2009 8:29 AM    Report this comment

The crew isn't the culprit. You have a company that's been around a LONG time and is known for marginal crap like this (ever since I started flying in VA in the late 70s). They are now teaching to turn the boots on at the first sign of icing -- they're DE-ice boots not ANTI-ice boots! We learned this lesson in the DC-3 days, apparently it has to be relearned. Certainly I was taught not to do it this way.

The fatigue issue and commuting issue is one that has been brought up by pilot unions over and over again. The health issue, ditto. The POI Manual states twice that the air carrier will not force a pilot to violate Part 67 and also states that sick time will be available and be used without retribution. Even at my major airline that doesn't happen. The FAA has been told, they do nothing.

The next training issue is when the stick pusher pushed and there was lots of brown on the ADI, the Captain pulled back because he'd never been there before. My major also trains stall as always occurring climbing -- but I am one of those military guys who has spent alot of time on my back and understands what critical angle of attack means.

This is not to reflect poorly on the crew at all, this is to reflect extremely poorly on a training department that doesn't train, a management outlook that hangs the crew out to dry first chance they get, and a government agency charged with oversight that looks the other way. 50 died, how big was the management bonus at Colgan?

Posted by: John Hyle | May 18, 2009 9:23 AM    Report this comment

Ceri - d**k is sexist, is it not?

The transcript I have makes no mention of concern over tailplane icing, just visible ice from the cockpit.

Also, NO command from the Captain to raise the flaps. This seemed to be the F/0's idea.

Posted by: Ed Toner | May 18, 2009 9:56 AM    Report this comment

First things first - I too find Mr Toner's apparently sexist post way out of line.

As for paying two extra dollars for safety, I wish we could. But time and time again the market (i.e. us, the ticket-buying public) have shown that we will book the absolute cheapest fare, without regard to airline, service, routing, equipment, etc. When was the last time you paid a higher fare because you knew that airline did a better job scheduling its pilots rest periods?

That cost cutting on our part has translated into everything an airline does - cheap out on pilot training, pay, maintainer training & pay, etc. Now unfortunately we see the result of an inexperienced, marginally trained crew, forced to work very long hours after commuting to work because they can't afford to live at their domicile. And there will always be pilots willing to fly for less.

What's the solution? If the market won't pay for safety, that's when the government is called to legislate safety. I guess it's our choice, but I'm guessing we won't see a $5 "safety fee" tagged on to our airfare anytime soon.

Posted by: Donald Harper | May 18, 2009 10:02 AM    Report this comment

For heavens sakes...

Once again we take the blame off where it lives. The Captain and FO were irresponsible pilots period. FAA, Airline and the flying public depend on the flight crew to follow regulations. It is obvious both pilots had not met the crew rest requirements, it was obvious the FO was congested, it was obvious the crew became test pilots when they continued into conditions they did not have the experience to handle. Pilot pay is not the issue, pilot responsibility is. It appears to me they were probably paid too much for the level of responsibility they demonstrated.

For about 20 years now the authority of the PIC had detoriated to that of a tour bus operator. Captains get no respect from anyone. Authority MUST equal or exceed responsibility. Responsibility without authority is a disaster.

Todays society rejects authority and rejects taking responsibility.

These pilots had the regulations on their side, they had company policy on their side, in both cases they refused for some reason to be responsible. In reality all we have to do is look at the job they chose and the money they spent for their certificated, 100k for a 16k job, that is irresponsible...

Posted by: Rex Davis | May 18, 2009 10:42 AM    Report this comment

I'm not a pilot (tried once, but that's another story), but I see a couple of underlying causes of this and many other problems in our economy. Deregulation - in the communications industry, the trucking industry (where most of my experience lies), the airline industry (I worked there in the early sixties) and of course the most recent meltdown in the financial industry. Self regulation, weak or nonexistant regulations coupled with the ineffectual regulatory agencies of our corporate controlled government has helped lead us into this sad state of affairs.

Furthermore, as alluded to in several of the previous comments unions, in all industries, have been, and continue to be, champions of reasonable working conditions and safety in all industries. We all know how trade unionism has suffered over the past thirty years. Corporate greed dictates the abolishment of both regulatory prudence and union membership. These outcomes are being bought in the halls of Congress.

Posted by: Dennis McNish | May 18, 2009 10:56 AM    Report this comment

The same issues involving pay and finding competent, qualified applicants to fill employee vacancies now plague the air traffic control system as well. In a cost-cutting move attributed to the budget, the FAA now pays controllers far less than it used to. A quote from the above article would apply to ATC if you replaced the words "airline pilots" with "air traffic controllers"...

"So where will the (air traffic controllers) of the future come from? Will the profession find a way to attract the best and the brightest, even if the pay and benefits and schedules are not enticing?"

The high cost of training and low wages, for both pilots and air traffic controllers, are placing the nation's aviation industry at risk. Maybe an unregulated, free market approach to an industry so vital to the nation's productivity isn't the right answer.

Posted by: Charles Dickinson | May 18, 2009 11:14 AM    Report this comment

The problem goes back to today's pitiful FAA training curriculum for the basic pilot's license and higher. They require "stall recognition" over recovery from a fully developed stall. I even had one experienced instructor tell me, "my students don't have a wing drop in a stall because I have them enter stalls with the "ball centered"! He was teaching precision stall entry, for God's sake. When does a real situation, ice or not, occur under such perfect conditions? There was a time when primary civilian training for a simple private license required full stall and spin training. Now we have commercial pilots who turn white-knuckled during full stall or spin demonstrations. The stick shaker came into being because some of today's commercial planes (swept wing-T-tail) will not recover from a fully developed stall. Double or triple stick shakers are there to make sure a pilot of such aircraft do not allow a stall to develop. The problem is not young or old pilots who fly for the love of it -- the problem is the dumbing down of training.

Posted by: Tom Simmons | May 18, 2009 11:31 AM    Report this comment

Among other things, cockpit behavior was a huge contributing factor in this incident. Based on the transcript, the captain couldn't stop chatting about his previous experiences, and I saw a couple smart jabs at the controllers from both crewmembers (off the radio), basically a hazardous, cavalier attitude from both crew members that "I know we're supposed to be concentrating on flying, but nothing bad has ever happened in the past, so it can't happen to me". It's unfortunate that it was too late when they recognized what was happening.

I'm not an airline pilot so I don't now how much behavior based training airline pilots receive before they are allowed to fly. I would hope that the airlines have something in place to identify and mitigate hazardous attitudes. It freaks me out and angers me that I or my family could have easily been on that plane. Passengers on a Brasilia deserve the same level of professionalism and responsibilty as those on a 380.

Posted by: Dana Files | May 18, 2009 11:49 AM    Report this comment

The sad fact is people died because a flight crew was unable to apply basic airmanship and prevent or recover from a stall.

The crew did not understand what the "INCREASE" switch did to the stall warning system. They were unaware of how the stall prevention (stick pusher) system operated or how the "INCREASE" switch affected its operation.

The crew did not understand the difference between a wing stall (stick shaker) event and a tail stall which has no stall warning.

Pilot error will be charged for a large portion "PROBABLE CAUSE" but other factors will also be cited including:
Crew rest and fatigue.
Sterile Cockpit
In my opinion, this crew was not qualified and should not have been operating this flight.

Regional airlines have done a reasonable job in providing safe air transportation for the flying public, "BUT" this accident calls attention to several areas where a flight crew was certified to operate an aircraft when they were not in possession of the necessary information and skills to handle the conditions in which they found themselves. Is this the tip of the iceberg or is this crew the only one with the deficiency? I suspect it's an iceberg.

Posted by: Donald Moore | May 18, 2009 12:47 PM    Report this comment

First off, I'm not a pilot, so my views probably reflect my ignorance. From my standpoint, it seems that the crew simply failed to recognize the professionalism and attention that their job required. I don't know much about flying in icing, but from what I'm reading, any good pilot should be able to take the appropriate precautions and actions regardless of experience, though the experience might help them better judge their situation. A professional attitude towards the task generally allows anyone to perform at the peak of their abilities, and also recognize when they've exceeded them.

As far as pilot pay and conditions: A wise man once told me that the fair market value for something is whatever someone will pay. The same is true of employment, but in reverse. I feel for pilots flying a $16k/yr job with $100k of training under their belt, but they took the job. As long as their is an unending supply of pilots who are willing to work for peanuts, or even pay to build time in an airline environment, the pay will remain low and conditions grim. Is the company complicit? Of course, but until the workforce begins to demand that they be paid in accordance with the expectations of ability and professionalism, corporations will continue to exploit any economic advantage they can find.

Posted by: A Torke | May 18, 2009 12:57 PM    Report this comment

As a CFI I generally agree with most things said here, particularly Tom Simmons' comments. In a somewhat related note, our society has this "anyone can do anything" attitude which leads to people with no natural propensity for particular types of work getting into that line of work. We all know someone who got straight As in school but couldn't balance a checkbook or correctly spell an entire sentence. The same things happen with pilots, and the PTS standards have no way of filtering that out. I am genuinely in support of anyone wanting to learn to fly, but when it's time to get paid to fly, we need some way to test and filter. Not everyone who wants to be an astronaut gets to.

Maybe more training really is the answer, but it needs to focus on the whys and they whats, not just how to react to a series of canned situations. My gut feeling based on the way they situation was handled is the crew was inexperienced and/or lacked the proper intuition and knowledge about how to deal with the situation.

Ultimately we may never know why nobody thought of looking at the airspeed indicator for those 20 seconds leading up to the stall, but a conscientious pilot wouldn't have have let the airspeed bleed off in the first place.

Posted by: Rich Prillinger | May 18, 2009 1:10 PM    Report this comment

A. Torke makes some valid points and in doing so validates my contention that strong trade unions have an important roll to play in training and safety as well as pay issues. Through collective bargaining they give the individual pilot (or any other worker) the power and influence that an individual will never be able to bring to bear.

Posted by: Dennis McNish | May 18, 2009 1:11 PM    Report this comment

The problem here was not low pay or lack of collective bargaining or regulation. The problem was a lack of personal responsibility, discipline, and professionalism.

Posted by: Steve Hooley | May 18, 2009 3:20 PM    Report this comment

Most posts here seem to focus on the "cause" of the accident.

The chain of events have clearly illustrated that there was not a single cause for this accident, but rather there are many serious factors. This was a classic accident just waiting to happen, so it did.

In general, every accident is preceded by a series of events or activities.

If any one event or activity had been done differently, the accident would not have occurred (“break the chain
to avoid the accident”). Many posts here have identified one or more such sequential events that led to this fatal result.

Crewmembers tried to focus on the work to be done, but they were obviously distracted by worries caused by personal and/or job-related concerns. It is way too simplistic to blame this on any single factor or event, or to blame it on a lack of discipline or professionalism (which must be learned, just like learning what to do when the stick-shaker activates in icing conditions). Blame is for lawyers. We should all be trying to learn from this.

The point of the article was that this kind of chain of events may be a glimpse into the future of airline
transportation, unless we do something significant. So, rather than argue for specific causes in this specific case, how about some additional constructive suggestions for breaking the chain that may be leading to a dramatically less-safe industry in our near future?

Posted by: Bruce Liddel | May 18, 2009 4:15 PM    Report this comment

I brought up lack of pay, regulation and collective bargaining, not as specific causes of the crash but as some of the underlying reasons for the corporate culture that ends up accepting unqualified, ill-trained and otherwise unsuitable crew (or other workers) to do the job, since those people entering the industry will work cheap.

Even in the case of very well qualified people, lack of rest or illness that is ignored by either the individual crew member or the company can seriously jeopardize safety. As I have stated earlier, these are areas that unions often take more seriously than does management whose primary concern is the bottom line. Of course companies must make a profit,but trying to squeeze one more penny of profit at the cost of an airliner full of people is bad policy, but one that we see all too often.

Posted by: Dennis McNish | May 18, 2009 4:38 PM    Report this comment

In a perfect world the revenue the aircraft can generate is a large part of pay equation.

Thus, a 747 Captain makes more than a 737 Captain. An RJ Captain makes less and a Q400 captain makes less yet.

However we don't live in a perfect world.

In this world a Corporate pilot can make more salary than a Q400 driver.


The corporate world is willing to pay for experience. The regional airlines are not.


Because there is a steady stream of pilots building time toward being employable with a high paying legacy airline.

Posted by: Donald Moore | May 18, 2009 5:05 PM    Report this comment

I agree with D. Moore, but even at the bottom of the ladder an individual should receive pay comensurate not only with his level of experience, but at a level which he/she can live reasonably, as well as have working conditions that are commensurate with the ensuring the safety of those lives she/he is entrusted with.

Mr. Moore says; "The corporate world is willing to pay for experience. The regional airlines are not."

This is precisely why government regulation along with proper employee representation by an organized union is necessary.

Posted by: Dennis McNish | May 18, 2009 5:21 PM    Report this comment

We can thank Jimmy Carter for spiraling down aviation safety with deregulation. Before deregulation Airlines spared no expense on maintaince, salaries, or pilot training. My father whom retired from American after 35 years on the job often talks about this. He states that customer service, safety, employee benifits and morale all went down the toilet with deregulation.

Unfortunately passangers cannot protect themselves from their own lust for cheap airfares. The government is incapable of properly monitoring airline operations. They do not have the staffing or desire to perform the job properly.

Reregulate the airlines. Safety, employee wages, pilot training, and customer service will all improve. Airfares will only go up a small amount. Do Americans really need to fly cross country for a fraction of the cost of the gas it would take to drive?

As a sidebar, I am a GA pilot whom regularly flys in known ice conditions. I cannot believe that a commercial pilot flying an airliner has less training and experience in dealing with ice than general aviation pilots.

Posted by: ROBERT ANDERSON | May 18, 2009 7:21 PM    Report this comment

While Dennis McNish's comments are interesting, they are only valid when employee skills are scarce and are there is a demand for them that the customers are willing to pay for (see Eastern Airlines for an example); government regulation works when it is logical and makes sense, something thing lacking for a number of years now from our congress-critters and regulators.

One should note that Southwest Airlines needed neither of Dennis McNish's criteria to become well respected, established and highly successful (ALPA was late to mix)

Posted by: ERNIE GANAS | May 18, 2009 8:15 PM    Report this comment

Robert A says: "We can thank Jimmy Carter for spiraling down aviation safety with deregulation." Agreed, it happened on Carter's watch, however at the risk of getting off into a political harangue let's just say there were 535 people in Congress that actually passed the bill (or bills). Not to mention that deregulation is basically a Republican concept. You know small govt. etc.,etc.

I worked for Eastern at DCA in the early sixties and what an operation it was. Captain Eddie knew how to run an airline.

Later I was a trucker and am still involved in that industry from time to time. Trucking was deregulated about the same time as the airlines with the same sorry results. Broken down equipment - cowboys behind the wheel - late loads - crappy working conditions and lower relative pay.

Robert is right on the mark - reregulate, not just the airlines but our entire economy needs critical supervision. A fox does not a good henhouse guard make.

Posted by: Dennis McNish | May 18, 2009 8:28 PM    Report this comment

I agree that some form of regulation is in order. We've turned our airlines into kerosene-fueled greyhound buses. I have a friend who works for a regional airline which shall go unnamed. He says that the amount of anger felt toward the management of his company when the cockpit door is shut is almost scary (schedules that are awful, no pay, threats to cut benefits, etc). I'm sorry that regulation would increase the price of a ticket, and force some people to drive to their vacation in Disneyland, or heaven forbid take public transit like a train! I'd prefer when taking a business trip to fly with a crew who loves their job and is well rewarded for it, in an aircraft maintained by professionals who have the tools and means to do their job right, instead of sending it to some overseas maintenance facility in Timbuktu (although the game of identify the corrosion on the wing and count the missing rivets can be fun sometimes!)

Posted by: Josh Johnson | May 19, 2009 6:32 AM    Report this comment

Lack of enough pay, regs., union rep., surly company management are all excuses. Those are reasons to kill yourself?? A strong sense of personal responsibility, discipline, courage and professionalism can overcome all of that. Application of such is what is req. to break the so called "chain".

Posted by: Steve Hooley | May 19, 2009 12:54 PM    Report this comment

Let's see, the company dispatches you on a run that is going to max out your hours, in poorly maintained equipment, and you had to jumpseat for 4 hours after your two hour drive to the airport. I agree that the flight crew has a responsibility for safety here, however they've got a really tough choice. Do I give up my career, and what income I've got in the name of safety, or do I take the flight just one more time and promise to never fly (tired, with a maintenance issue, or whatever it may be) again? In a perfect world, you'll go the safe route no matter what the repercussions from the company - in the real world it's not so easy. Those who say it's easy to choose either haven't been there, or they might fib about other things as well. Does the flight crew have a responsibility - absolutely! Does the company - absolutely! To ignore safety is unforgivable for all involved, management included!

Posted by: Josh Johnson | May 19, 2009 4:58 PM    Report this comment

I didn't say it was easy. I know from first hand experience for 35 years. A breakdown in cockpit discipline is apparent in this accident. The buck stops at the PIC. The crew chose to put themselves in that situation. I have never seen a pilot forcefully put into a cockpit. Turns out this crew gave up their career and paltry income... and their lives.

Posted by: Steve Hooley | May 19, 2009 8:54 PM    Report this comment

The biggest and most ridiculous myth I am hearing is that military pilots offer something over civilian. Look at the history and when pilots were primarily military, the accident rate was much higher than now. If you want to see what a hard preference for military pilots does for you, check out FedEx's accident record...great people, a great company, but one of the worst records. Military pilot are narrowly trained and in their lifetime might only fly three aircraft models and contrary to popular belief, most of their time is not spent flying into the mouth of hell surviving only due to their incredible skill. No, in fact, much or most of their time is not even in IFR conditions. Military pilots CAN be good pilots but so can civilian pilots with seat of the pants flying skills and experience in all realms of aviation. Look at every great save of an airliner in the past umpteen years and every one of the guys flying had hard quality GA time. IF you want to find the demise of "the pilot" look to 141 schools and their graduates that cannot even fly a visual approach.

Posted by: Rich Davidson | May 19, 2009 9:58 PM    Report this comment

I remember many years ago when one of my father's employees complained about having to come to work for a few hours only because "he lived much farther away from work than most." My father's answer was "Now I didn't tell you where to live or work did I?"
As far as commuting long distances, it is TOTALLY the employees decision. If the mean company does something you don't like QUIT! At least so far, no one is chained to their desk, workbench, hammer or cockpit.

Posted by: Stuart Baxter | May 20, 2009 7:15 AM    Report this comment

I am basically against regulation but this is an area that needs standards set by the government for time off, schedule etc. If we set uniform regulations, then the airlines have a level playing field from a competitive standpoint and they can compete and give us the lowest fare and have safe flying.

as in other business like trucking, even if an airline wants to have better standards someone else will always try to cut corners and do it cheaper and one of the ways to make it cheaper is to drive the employees too hard. In the end a company must be competitive to survive and there are always people willing to compromise safety to make money. minimum pay scales and work conditions must be legislated in order to insure safe flying.

There are many commuter airline accidents that can be traced back to inexperience, over stressed pilots that help lead to the accident chain. Better working conditions will not guarantee safety but will work to remove one of the casual factors in many accidents.

Posted by: BILL LAWSON | May 20, 2009 8:24 AM    Report this comment

There are plenty of regulations in place. As usual with our modern society, more rules won't do much. Just do the ones already in place. When the final report comes out on this one there will be a long list of rules and procedures that were violated. More rules won't solve that problem.

Posted by: Stuart Baxter | May 20, 2009 9:03 AM    Report this comment

I'm having a difficult time grasping is how the pilot took a plane that was flying stabilized and managed to wrestle it so far from a flyable attitude. When do you finally realize that you've put in too much control input? When the nose is 30 degrees above the horizon? Even if it was a tail stall, changing the pitch attitude that much isn't going to fix anything. What was he thinking?

Posted by: Scott Keeler | May 20, 2009 9:36 AM    Report this comment

I am 65 with over 26,000 hours with no accidents or violations. I am one of many who cannot get a job with a small airline and contribute 40 years of experience. This accident would not have happened with one of us at the controls nor would this Captain be flying as Captain had there been proper checking of his abilities by one of us gray haired pilots. There are a few pilots in all airlines who are permanent copilots or are let go.
If I was the Director of Operations I would strongly question the last check airman who gave this pilot his last line check.
I do not think money would solve the problem. These pilots are building their time in hopes of transitioning to the major airlines. I found this pilot older (47) than most commuter pilots meaning he started very late in life because his flying time was low for someone his age.
Old retired (age terminated) airline pilots make good Monday morning quarterbacks--send us in coach

Posted by: Chuck Jones | May 20, 2009 9:47 AM    Report this comment

Chuck and Scott - I refer you back to where the F/O RAISED THE FLAPS!

That was what screwed the pooch.

BTW, I'm 77, a Tailhook "Centurion"

Posted by: Ed Toner | May 20, 2009 10:05 AM    Report this comment

The long term effect of difficult work conditions and low pay, nonliving wages that you can not live on is to select out the good people. In business I have found you get what you pay for. If you want good people you need to pay them a competitive wage and have a reasonable work environment. but we must remember that that will not guarantee excellence. Good working conditions is a necessary but not sufficient condition to have a successful long term operation. There are many other factors that we must select for.

flying is a great career thus the average pay scale will be lower. but at this time we get low time pilots with little experience and even worse no aptitude for the job.

Ask Sen Wellstone what happens when you get inexperienced pilots that could only get a borderline job and a copilot that is fresh out of school. Oh I forget he is dead because the pilot screwed up a VOR approach.

unfortunately when I go to book a flight the only thing I get is the cost and schedule. nothing about the pilots qualifications.

thus in order to protect the flying public there needs to be regulations so the cost driven businessman does not cut corners on Pilots qualifications. Unregulated capitalism is as bad as pure socialism as evidenced by the underlying causes of the present recession. We must set the rules for safe operations so there is a level playing field and then let the capitalists fight it out.

Posted by: BILL LAWSON | May 20, 2009 10:11 AM    Report this comment

If you are following the thread, what are you proposing for regulations that would prevent two pilots from not paying attention to air speed and than taking not one but two wrong actions after the problem presented itself?

Posted by: Stuart Baxter | May 20, 2009 10:23 AM    Report this comment

In life all you can do is reduce the probability of problems happening. even great pilots will screw up however I have found that it is impossible to make an expert of of someone who does not have the aptitude. no amount of training will cure that. For what ever reason the Captain was not watching the airspeed in a risky situation and he did not know how to recover. I don't fault the copilot as that is a position where learning the game and being the back up for a dead captain is one of the major responsibilities. my point is that we should not make conditions such that we must select from people to do the job who do not have the aptitude. There is such a thing as the right stuff to be a pilot and then experience and training can do the rest. Thus we should make the job good enough, especially early in the career, that really good people apply and then we can select the people with the best aptitude. The more root causes of problems you can eliminate the better chance of a good outcome occurring in the end.

another comment on some previous posts,
By the way in selecting people to fly my airplanes I find in general Women are better as typically they need to be better to overcome the bias in the aircraft world.

Posted by: BILL LAWSON | May 20, 2009 10:46 AM    Report this comment

You didn't answer my question. Earlier I said there were plenty of rules and regulations already in place. You indicated you wanted more. What so you suggest?
Any prudent person looking over this pilot's record if he told the truth would not have hired him in the first place much less made him a captain.

Posted by: Stuart Baxter | May 20, 2009 10:54 AM    Report this comment

Of all the "events" leading up to this accident, I have to consider lack of basic airmanship as one. It does not appear to me that flight schools are teaching students to fly airplanes. The training seems to be geared toward becoming a airline pilot first. Maybe more primary training should be focused on flying and less on the use of radios, glass panels and automated devices?

Posted by: Dale Weir | May 20, 2009 11:12 AM    Report this comment

William, I salute you! You've made several eloquent and well-supported posts here, which do exactly as I asked: focus on what we can do to break the chain, rather than to try to find a single cause to blame for this accident. I think you're on to something, and it's valuable, and the FAA and Congress and the airlines ought to hear it. Chuck and Josh also made very good points. Mary: What do you think? Are we on to something?

Posted by: Bruce Liddel | May 20, 2009 11:16 AM    Report this comment

But they did hire him. why did they pick him vs some one else? he was probably the best available at what they were willing to pay and that would work for the work conditions they offer. If you have 10 applicants for each job it is amazing the quality that shows up. however to keep them you also need to at least pay him/her enough to survive. I would have two suggestions

1. that reasonable work rules be instituted about time on the job and scheduling. there is a lot of data out there on the effect on performance because of time on/off and the effect of rotating shift work.

2 require that any pilot be paid a living wage . In today's numbers that is somewhere around $50,000 per year plus or minus $10,000 depending on location. Many of these pilots are paid well below the poverty line especially initially. They should be paid enough so they can afford to move to where they are based. (some one I am sure know the exact numbers I only know what some of my acquaintances were paid their first few years and what a Captain gets paid after 4000 hours and 4 years) They should not need to get a second job to feed their family

People will scream that this will make the commuters go out of business. not if everyone has the same pay scale. I would happily pay 10 to $20 more per flight to know that the pilots were the best available and they were well rested and rigorously tested and trained.

Posted by: BILL LAWSON | May 20, 2009 11:29 AM    Report this comment

Weren't they on a coupled ILS? As I recall they were about at the MM and had the threashold in sight. I'll bet they then uncoupled the auto pilot and it had trimed back everything so things got wild. As for more rules, we have them but they are not followed, especially the crew time. That does need to be modified to allow for time since waking up, not just flight time. The truckers fudge on it also. The FAA needs to enforce the rules especially against the carriers and not necessarly the pilots.

Posted by: JOHN P HEY | May 20, 2009 12:15 PM    Report this comment

I certainly agree about the fatigue factor. The NTSB has been complaining about that for years.
As far as a living wage, I nor do you have any idea what that means. Ask any intern if they are getting paid enough. Ask anyone at a entry level job if they are getting paid enough. Ask anyone at a dead end job if they are getting paid enough?
If you had been reading my posts you would know that I said the cost of the flight crew was less than $2.00 per seat. Salaries are what they are because there are plenty of people out there willing to fly for the cheap money to get their time in so they can get the so called better job.

What I have been getting at is that you can't write rules to get people to act professionally. Ever heard about CRM? I fly with guys that if one of us misses something the other one speaks up to question right away if they think something's not right.
Way back I flew with a 20,000 hour airline guy in a King Air and he said "I know you only have a little time, but if you think I'm doing something funny speak up. You might just save both of us."

Posted by: Stuart Baxter | May 20, 2009 1:53 PM    Report this comment

This has been a very interesting string. Collectively, it brings three thoughts to my mind, two non-aviation and one aviation. 1. With respect to working hours and pay, I am reminded of doctors during their internship. From what I've heard, they go through a similar rite of passage. Perhaps that says something about the American free enterprise system as well as individual freedom to choose and desire to be in a particular profession. 2. I recall Edwards Deming, the fellow who transformed the Japanese automobile industry from trash to quality, as saying that in general a failure is rarely the employee's fault. It is almost always the fault of management for not providing proper equipment, training, or motivation. 3. I think it was unconscionable for the Colgan management to denigrate the Captain on the basis of his employment application. By the time of the accident, they owned his performance and were responsible for his training and determining whether or not he was qualified in his position.
Bill Castlen

Posted by: Bill Castlen | May 20, 2009 9:00 PM    Report this comment

Amen, amen, the buck always stops at the top, and all the training and evaluation cannot determine what the reaction will be when you are faced with the moment of truth.

Posted by: Stuart Baxter | May 20, 2009 9:26 PM    Report this comment

Re: Comments of S. Hooley, " A strong sense of personal responsibility, discipline, courage and professionalism can overcome all of that. Application of such is what is req. to break the so called 'chain'"

Motherhood and apple-pie remarks like this always boggle my mind. How can one be so smug and clueless at the same time? This is a discussion about policy. It's as if, on the matter of how to improve education, one proclaims that the solution is to have smart, motivated, and well-behaved children. Well, that's profound.

I'll say one thing that I've learned from raising children and coaxing optimal performance from teams of PhD's that I’ve managed. People will rise to the level of respect you give them, and people will descend to the level scorn you heap upon them. Want good pilots with a sense of responsibility and professionalism? Pay them what professionals with responsibility deserve.

That should be where the philosophy debate ends and the policy debate starts: on how to reap the benefits of free-market competition without sacrificing the respect for your human capital to the natural greed and sloth of management, who are, after all, human. In my experience, that's not a natural state of affairs for any organization. It takes active work on all fronts: adversarial mechanisms like regulatory enforcement and collective bargaining, cooperative mechanisms like evangelism and esprit de corps.

Dr. D. Chang

Posted by: DANIEL CHANG | May 22, 2009 2:25 AM    Report this comment

'Natural greed and sloth of management'?? That's a bit strong I would think.

Posted by: Stuart Baxter | May 22, 2009 7:24 AM    Report this comment

Dr.D.Chang should be a fly in the cockpit of a major career flying to Europe or the far east and listen to the continuous complaints about pay from pilots who earn $250,000 a year for working 10 days a month.
Does a 1st Lt in the Air Force flying a 30 million dollar fighter have less professionalism than the United Captain because he earns less?
Professionalism cannot be bought. I have been at the lowest ring in the ladder and the highest and also a Union officer and negotiator. We never brought up professionalism as a negotiating tool to get better pay.
Of course, if you pay a lot more like some corporations do then you get the cream of the crop or so they think. (not always the case)
I am waiting for the full NTSB report and then talk to my friends and family who are with the FAA and who are Dash 8 qualified before making any strong statements about what went wrong and suggest what needs more attention in the training and hiring departments of the commuter airlines.

Posted by: Chuck Jones | May 22, 2009 9:45 AM    Report this comment

As far as education and raising children are concerned Dr. Chang, I see no relevance in the children remark, FWIW, my Irish wife and I raised 6 children, all of them successful and reproductive to the point that I now have Great-Grandchildren. I am a graduate of USMMA, BSNS. Product of US Navy flight training, and flew fighters off carriers before I ever had a pilot's license.

In my 34 years of flying some 15-20,000 hours, I never had an accident or incident. (OK, so I blew a tire once on a B-727. Big Deal.)

BTW, my last job was with the FAA as a GS 13 air carrier inspector.

Posted by: Ed Toner | May 22, 2009 10:22 AM    Report this comment


I think you may have missed the core of his comment >>People will rise to the level of respect you give them, and people will descend to the level scorn you heap upon them.

Posted by: ERNIE GANAS | May 23, 2009 1:03 AM    Report this comment

I think the 'talking down' to us peasants from the good doctor is what may have ruffled a few feathers.

Posted by: Stuart Baxter | May 23, 2009 10:22 AM    Report this comment

Pay, working conditions and training are not the problem. I read the captain had 5k hours and the copilot had 1K hours. Each pilot had survived more than enough time in the air that they should not have allowed the aircraft to get in that configuration; further, either one of them should have been able to "save" the aircraft after it got there. Every pilot with that much time has experienced several legs; during which he wished he were somewhere else, and got away with it. He probably won't put himself in THAT position again. Accidents are caused by several factors occurring simultaneously. When it all comes together and you haven't left yourself a cushion; read "escape route", repeat after me, "Our Father.." I survived 28,500 hours by not ignoring the limit of my proficiency, my physical limitations, the limitations of the aircraft, and recognizing that they vary from day to day and leg to leg. The FAR's or fear of Company retribution can never be allowed to enter into the equasion. Those pilots were "mouse trapped" by multiple real time factors that exceeded their limitations. We can only speculate about their judgement and their personal history.

Posted by: George A Hutchinson | May 23, 2009 11:43 AM    Report this comment

Robert Anderson is absolutely right in finding it unbelievable that commercial pilots may have less icing training than a GA pilot.When I compare the training I went through at SOCATA in France to get my TBM rating with the experience level implied by the words uttered by the Colgan copilot I was left absolutely speechless.

Lupo Rattazzi,Rome,Italy

Posted by: LUPO RATTAZZI | May 23, 2009 1:00 PM    Report this comment

You are correct George except for one thing, that you did not mention, and that is a history of failing check rides which is a major red flag. Anyone can have one bad day in the simulator but 5 is not acceptable for employment as a professional pilot. We had a policy of up or out which washed out a few pilots who where not ready for upgrade so the policy was changed to two failures to upgrade to Captain meant termination or sign a letter that you would not bid Captain again. ALPA changed most of that to train to proficiency if the pilot makes it through probation.
Interesting topic with not clear solutions. I have had co-pilots who were Air force Academy grads and flew with the Thunderbirds who made mistakes, like the rest of us, but lack of situation awareness was never one of the mistakes.

Posted by: Chuck Jones | May 24, 2009 7:19 AM    Report this comment

I've never flown the Q400, but I have about 300 hours SIC in a Dash 7 (yeah, I know ... totally different), as well as 3,000 PIC hrs in a SD3.

For some reason, the crew felt it was necessary to decellerate rapidly--which can be the only explanation why the power was kept at or near flight idle for so long. The crew simply fell behind the (auto-piloted?) aircraft, and was ill-prepared for maneuvering the craft when 'George' was turned off.

Again, just speculating ...

Posted by: Phil Derosier | May 24, 2009 9:48 PM    Report this comment

It makes my heart sick to see the NTSB composite replay of this flight and watch the captain control a stalling wing with aileron. It is stark evidence of his lack of recognition for what was happening to the aircraft and of how poorly trained he was to apply a proper response.

Posted by: Curtis Phillips | May 25, 2009 6:54 AM    Report this comment

I hired a lot of people and I selected based on three basic attributes: Talent Experience/education and culture/personality.

we found that we could always take an inexperienced person with not enough education and turn them into a very good employee if they had talent and the right personality for the job.

however if they did not have the talent to do the job and the right culture to fit into the working environment and to have the right attitude about their limits etc they always failed. If the pilots did not have what it took to make the right decisions after good training or they did not have the talent or the personality to do the job, The company screwed up when hiring and especially screwed up in the testing during the following training and did not select them out. Based on my experience, if the job is a good one you will get excellent applicants but if is bad most of the talented people will go elsewhere. good people always have job choices underperformers will take what is available whether they are good at it or not.

Posted by: BILL LAWSON | May 25, 2009 10:02 AM    Report this comment

What is good starting pay for an airline pilot?

The question is: What is a good starting pay to insure there are good applicants so you do not need to chose what is best whether they meet the requirements or not. the goal is to always be able to choose among fully capable applicants.
As far as pay goes, everyone complains about the pay, however, pay is only a negative reward not a positive one. too little pay will make people who have choices go elsewhere, more pay than enough will not make them better at their job. Thus I feel the starting salary for a commuter pilot should be set at the level that a person can have a small house/apartment/ a significant other and a car or two and afford at least one modest vacation a year in order to attract god raw material. The statistics I see show that this level is around $40,000 to $60,000 a year depending where you live in the US

Posted by: BILL LAWSON | May 25, 2009 10:07 AM    Report this comment

William Lawson - Good comments. Right person? TWA had a shrink in MKC when I interviewed back in 1957. He asked a lot of dumb questions from a huge book, and I was getting a bit impatient with him. Then he asked "When did you stop masturbating?".

I snapped back "When I was finished." His jaw dropped, he slammed his book closed, and dismissed me.

The final interview was with the Chief Pilot who liked all my twin jet pilot in command (from my F2H-3 Banshee), and laughed when he read the shrink's report. Then he said "Ed, you'll get a letter from me in 2 weeks."

I was hired. They stopped hiring after my class. I had 14 numbers under me.

Posted by: Ed Toner | May 25, 2009 10:31 AM    Report this comment

I still maintain that the starting pay is whatever you have to pay to get people lined up for the job. It's not some number you can pull out of the air unless you want to just make the minimum wage forty or fifty thousand. While we are at it let's make the minimum $200K? Then almost everyone would be happy and we would eliminate poverty.

Posted by: Stuart Baxter | May 25, 2009 2:52 PM    Report this comment

I still maintain that the starting pay is whatever you have to pay to get people lined up for the job. It's not some number you can pull out of the air unless you want to just make the minimum wage forty or fifty thousand. While we are at it let's make the minimum $200K? Then almost everyone would be happy and we would eliminate poverty.

Posted by: Stuart Baxter | May 25, 2009 3:33 PM    Report this comment

Many businesses do periodic spot drug testing of employees. Why not do periodic black box reviews to determine if crews are maintaining a sterile cockpit? [I realize they could write notes rather than vocally chit-chatting when they weren't supposed to be, but that's not likely.] Pilots would be less likely to engage in chit-chat if they knew their job was on the line. It could be 3 strikes & you're out. Tell them when the first strike has occurred. Fire them after the 3rd strike....assuming they are still alive. If you don't agree with this, ask yourself if you break the sterile cockpit rule. I know fire can burn me, so I don't willingly go jumping into it.
Susan Simmons

Posted by: Susan Simmons | May 26, 2009 4:57 PM    Report this comment

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