NTSB final report: Colgan Air 3407 accident attributed to pilot error

Posted on 04. Feb, 2010 by in Airline Safety, Blog, Crashes

The National Transportation Safety Board’s final report has been released. The finding, as expected, is pilot error. It is the “why” that will transform the industry. Low pay, unreasonable scheduling and subpar training and applicants in the Regional Airline Industry are being addressed by the FAA.

The coming changes will affect the major airlines as well. Post 911 the airlines used the bankruptcy court to gut pilot contracts. Their biggest target bedsides pay was work rules. You reap what you sow; it showed first in the Regionals and now the Majors are showing the initial signs of safety concerns. A recent rash of near and actual accidents all seem to have one common factor; fatigue.

The entire industry has been relying on pilot experience to preserve safety in a fatigued profession. Fatigue is accumulative and it seems that the industry is on the edge. The FAA apparently is concerned enough to re-write decades old regulations on crew rest and training. Mr. Babbitt; the Administrator for the FAA, is pushing hard to get them in place by spring. It can’t come fast enough; with age 65 now in effect fatigue mitigation will become even more critical to airline safety. It is my opinion that fatigue is the number one causal factor in airline mishaps and accidents.

The new rules will cause a need for more QUALIFIED pilots. That will cause a shortage; because quite simply they are not there for the Regionals. You reap what you sow; no 20 year old in his or her right mind will run up 100 thousand dollars in loans for a 16 thousand dollar a year job. Once the majors pick through what’s left of their furlough pools they will find the same thing. No military pilot in his or her right mind is going to take a huge pay cut flying fighters, to come to an industry that issues pay cuts instead of raises and zeros out retirements instead of funding them.

So the Majors will pull from the Regionals, which will empty the Regionals, which will then cause the majors to have to pick up the flying of the Regionals, which will in turn collapse the Regionals and cause a shortage in the Majors as they expand to pick up the flying. Follow the bouncing ball.

About the time this is all sorted out, the vast majority of major airline pilots will time out and the industry 12-14 years from now will grind to a halt. IATA is already experiencing a shortage of experienced pilots worldwide (temporarily dampened by 911/SARs/and now the economy) and their solution is to simply do away with pilot qualifications via the Multi Pilot License. This will kick the problem down the road for a while; however MPL holders cannot be Captains. Once the last of the old guys retire, that will ground a significant portion of the airlines of the world. There will not be enough Captains, period. Fewer flights, much fewer; with bigger aircraft will become the only operationally sustainable model. Ironically it will save the industry economically, for those airlines that secure enough Captains to keep enough of their fleet in the air. Supply and demand, economics 101; but it is going to be hard and expensive to get from major city to major city. The secondary and tertiary markets can forget about air service.

You reap what you sow; the airline Transport Association has successfully smashed the unions and beat down the job to the pay level of a truck driver at the Majors and a McDonald’s worker at the Regionals. Flight schools are shuttering their doors; young college educated, smart hard chargers (the typical pilot profile) do not want the job anymore. It is not worth it; they are going to Wall Street, Med School or Law School now. If they want to fly they will buy their own airplane. Bottom line, you get what you pay for.

6 Responses to “NTSB final report: Colgan Air 3407 accident attributed to pilot error”

  1. Rick 7 February 2010 at 14:07 #

    It is interesting to see that Pinnacle Airlines Corp (PNCL), a publically traded company, is at the center of a lot of this. Not only do they own Colgan, they own a number of other regional carriers. They’ve been negotiating with the ALPA since 2005 and still don’t have an agreement acceptable to the pilots. They have a policy of paying “industry average”. I think that will inevitably change. They are public, and have a significant obligation to shareholders to maximize shareholder value. If they’re not competitive in hiring, change will be forced upon them.
    Now they’re moving their HQ from Mannassas, VA to Memphis, where they’ll be looking with 20/20 vision at FEDEX. That will be interesting. I just believe market forces sooner or later will come into play. At least I hope they do.

  2. Chip 8 February 2010 at 21:10 #

    Concur. I’m afraid what will engage the market forces is that there will be a severe shortage of pilots. Supply and demand will kick in and the highest bidder will get the pilots. If I held stock in a regional I’d dump it.

    AA has been in contract negotiations for over 3 years. After our pay cuts in 2003 we have been working for 1992 pay rates. Most of the guys I know have side gigs; obviously I do. I have also noticed a trend in retirements at AA. Senior FO’s that have hit 50 are starting to leave for greener pastures.

  3. Rick 9 February 2010 at 20:31 #

    Chip, One other thing I’m noticing….and I’m not sure it’s relevant to this conversation…but it’s the rush to turboprop Q400’s in regionals and in GA the incredible success of the Pilatus PC12. These new turboprops are definitely having an impact. I personally like the short field capability, but they’re also very economical. I think a trend worth noting.
    When I was doing due diligence on a corporate aircraft, I had to come down for the PC12. I think it will be just as compelling an argument for the Q400. Would appreciate your thoughts sometime on this subject.

  4. Chip 9 February 2010 at 23:21 #

    I agree 100%. In fact I have stated that the first legacy airline that can put the hatred for their own employees aside and bring this aircraft to the mainline will win. The Q-400 can carry 60+ dual class pax. The block time for any distance less than 400 miles is the same as a jet for much less fuel burn. They are also working on a 90 seater. This aircraft is 100 knots faster then a dash 8. I think it is a fantastic machine. chip

  5. Chip 10 February 2010 at 06:50 #

    One caveat; if they get the geared fan on line and it performs as advertised it will effect the impact of the Q-400. But; right now I think it is the best machine out there for the thin markets. And I’m an old fighter guy. what a concept make money with your feed instead of bleed.

  6. Rick 11 February 2010 at 20:49 #

    I think you will find this interesting reading. Pinnacle’s last 10Q.


    This Q400 thing I first noticed in Montreal (duuhh…Bombadier). It has really getting traction up there.

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