Colgan Air blames the crew for crash of flight 3407

Posted on 15. Dec, 2009 by in Blog, Crashes

“The dog ate my homework; the sun was in my eyes; my dog did it; my cat, she–It’s not my fault!” Apparently, that’s the unofficial line of Colgan Air.  It is all the crew’s fault. Let’s review:

  1. Colgan Air hired the crew; which included a “rigorous” review of logs and records.
  2. Colgan Air trained the crew.
  3. Colgan Air scheduled the crew.
  4. Colgan Air paid the crew.

But still, according to Colgan they had no responsibility for the accident, no accountability: Hey man shit happens (my editorial comment).  Yes sir it sure does and 49 people paid the ultimate price.  Let’s dissect some of the quotes from Colgan Airs President and CEO Philip Trenary.

Colgan said the crew did not respond appropriately to warnings the plane was entering an aerodynamic stall, did not complete checklists and failed to follow “sterile cockpit” rules that prohibit unnecessary conversation during critical phases of flight.


If I were a Chief Pilot or VP of Flight Operations of an airline I would not be surprised that a pilot that had failed 5 previous check rides would have “issues” with managing a cockpit.  Oh and by the way they were never trained to counter stick shaker (full stall) in the simulator.


In August, Philip Trenary, president and CEO of Pinnacle Airlines, the parent company of Colgan Air, testified at a Senate hearing that while “a failure on a check-ride is not necessarily a reason for someone not to fly, it depends on what kind of failure it is.


Agreed, one failure is not a big deal; however 5 so early in a pilot’s career is a clear indicator or pattern.


After the crash, Colgan said the pilot, Capt. Marvin Renslow, had failed three pilot tests, known as “check-rides,” before joining the airline, but had disclosed only one on a job application. He failed another two check-rides while at Colgan Air.


So they knew of three; failed to find two in their hiring process and still no responsibility.  They sure found out about them after the fact, and fast too.


In Colgan’s submission to the NTSB, the company describes its hiring process as rigorous. But, Colgan said, Renslow “was not truthful on his employment application.” Renslow did not disclose two of the three proficiency checks he failed, Colgan said.”


Rigorous?  They have admitted in TESTIMONY to having missed two failed check rides on one pilot.  I wonder how many other “problems” with their pilots they have rigorously missed.


Colgan said it followed federal rules requiring airlines to seek applicants’ records, but it was unable to get some of Renslow’s information because “Renslow was not employed as a pilot at the time” of his failed check rides. At the time, there was no published guidance on obtaining information from the Federal Aviation Administration, Colgan said.


Here is a clue for Colgan’s HR Department.  The FAA has an office in Oklahoma, in that office they have a copy of all check rides, test results and official FAA training.  Oh yes, there was no published guidance; it is the FAA’s fault then.  How about, just maybe, you take some corporate initiative, perhaps a dab of due diligence and ring ‘em up for a copy of your applicant’s records. 


When I applied for a pilot position at two airlines; I was required to show with the complete record of all my FAA check rides, training, and exams.  It was in the dark ages, they were on microfiche; I suspect you could get it now in a PDF file.  I also had to provide a page by page account of all flights.  That accounting is called a log book, inspecting it; a smart and cagy interviewer might ask a pilot why he took a check ride twice.  I’m just saying. 


I could go on and on about the scheduling to the point of fatigue and the pay so low that neither pilot could live in the New York area due to cost of living.  Colgan says they aren’t responsible for either of those as well; the fact that they write the checks and schedule apparently are immaterial. 


Shaw “did not plan her personal time properly prior to reporting to duty,” the airline said. “Rather than commuting to [Newark] on February 11 and staying in a hotel, she chose an overnight commute.”

 Let’s look in depth at this amazing statement.  By Colgan’s own admission $23,500 is first Officer pay.  After social security, taxes, etc. an FO probably takes home $18K a year. An average pilot flies 5 to 6 trips a month; in the New York area you’d have to work to get a hotel room for $150 a night.  Let’s do the math, we will even favor Colgan, 5 nights a month at $150 per is $9K a year. Half of a FO’s take home pay. That leaves $750 a month, $187.50 a week.  A little perspective; that leaves $8.92 per meal if you want to eat 3 squares a day.  EIGHT DOLLARS AND NINETY TWO CENTS PER MEAL.  And that’s it; no money for housing, no money for a car or other luxuries like clothes or toothpaste. 


Colgan Air by their own statements appear to be saying none of it is the responsibility  of the company or its policies fault.  I guess that means they will change nothing; in their hiring process, training program, scheduling matrix or pay rates. 


“The failures that we were unable to see were the basic fundamental failures that you would not want to have,” Trenary testified.


Master of the obvious: Apparently they failed to see poverty wages would mean fatigued crews; they failed to see the majority of their pilots did and STILL DO struggle like the crew of 3407.  Apparently they failed to find unsatisfactory check rides and inexperience in their hiring process.  Apparently they failed to see their fatiguing schedules, even after years of warnings from the NTSB.  Apparently they failed to properly train and oversee the crew.  Apparently they failed; but it is not their fault.


Maybe the US Congress and FAA will have a little something to say on the matter.  But until then, if my transportation options are a 36 hour bus ride or a trip on “It’s not my fault Air” I think I’ll ride the bus.


When I was a Lieutenant in the US Navy, as a junior officer, I was the Operations Department Head for VT-21, a training squadron.  When I got a new Instructor Pilot on board the first thing I would do is pick up their log book and flip to the qualifications page.  I’d check the date for advanced quals like Flight Lead.  Then I would open the log book to the last entry page for flights.  If they were given the same month the pilot left the command I would pull the qual.  I’d pull it because the “kiss good-by” qual by their past command meant that command didn’t trust him to have it while he flew there.  I didn’t need to see their NATOPS Jacket (qualifications file) to know the pilot was weak, inexperienced or both.  It was loud and clear.  The words may lie, but in context, the records don’t.  It was my duty to put them in context; it took approximately 90 seconds.


Like all Naval Officers I didn’t dodge responsibility or accountability, I sought it out.  My Commission from the US Congress demanded it.  We had a saying in the US Navy; “You can delegate authority but you can NEVER delegate responsibility or accountability.  If we failed we were relieved of command for cause.  We would never blame the victims of our failure of leadership.

No Responses to “Colgan Air blames the crew for crash of flight 3407”

  1. Rick 22 December 2009 at 17:59 #

    Yes, I agree with all of this, particularly the issue of taking responsibility. Obviously, Colgan is preparing for many trips to the courthouse.

    On top of all of this, what do you make of the FAA proposal to allow napping in the cockpit? I think that’s a very dangerous proposition, myself. What if the other seat nods off? I can’t imagine anybody in a cockpit wanting be anything other than 100% situationally aware of everything going on. It just seems to me to be a bad idea. Your thoughts?

  2. chip 22 December 2009 at 22:24 #

    I’m not much of a napper at all. Cockpit or not. The FAA seems interested in the concept, and a lot of guys really like naps. International has a crew of 3 and alternate through the cockpit. some guys nap on their breaks some watch movies.

    Scientist say its good; personally I’ve just never been comfortable w/the concept. chip

  3. mike 23 December 2009 at 14:39 #

    Read this:

    Colgan 3407 was an accident waiting to happen. There will be more.

    Note when it was written; Before 3407 crashed.

  4. Chip 23 December 2009 at 21:37 #

    No argument from me on either point. Another point is that in 10 years there will be virtually no one to fly these aircraft. I plan on owning my own for the rest of my life; the stamdards will be lowered to a pulse in 10 years. Automation can’t replace experience. chip

Leave a Reply