Colgan Air Disgusts Me

We’ve all had bad bosses, but most of us have assumed they didn’t run things in critical sectors like hospitals and airlines. Surprise! They are there too.


I have been interested in and read as much as I can about the crash of Continental 3407 this past winter in Clarence, NY, outside Buffalo. There are two things to be learned from the accident (probably more, but I’m writing about the two most obvious).

First, air travel is very safe with an intricate mesh of safety features and procedures. Missing one or even a few is OK because the system is designed to be fault tolerant. That’s a good thing and why we all are happier to fly a long distance than drive it.

There is, however, a finite limit to how far you can push that margin of safety–as we’ve seen.

Second, there are bad bosses and bad operators in every field. We’ve all had bad bosses, but most of us have assumed they didn’t run things in critical sectors like hospitals and airlines. Surprise! They are there too.

Reading the NTSB hearing transcripts and other evidence in this crash it seems to me the operators of this flight had too much confidence the system was unbreakably safe. They cut corners knowing a few errors wouldn’t bring a plane down–until it did.

It seems the pilot and co-pilot were not rested, undisciplined and poorly trained. Beyond that, this particular plane though a well respected workhorse had a few quirky features they hadn’t been trained on.

From Flightglobal: The pilots also selected a switch that adds 20kt (37km/h) airspeed to stick shaker and stick pusher stall warning system trip levels, a safety factor that takes into account the fact that wing ice might increase the aircraft’s stalling speed.

The stick shaker activated because of this arbitrary setting, not because the plane had actually stalled (lost its lift). As I understand it that’s not the way most other transport aircraft operate. If the pilot had known that maybe he would have acted differently? Probably.

It’s reported the co-pilot made around $16,000 last year while the 47 old pilot made about $55,000. That income level impacted the operation. Neither could afford to live where they flew. How could a skilled, career oriented pilot choose to fly for Colgan?

Prior to the flight the pilot slept in a crew lounge. Though doing that was against company policy, the lounge was configured in a way which facilitated using it instead of paying for a hotel. Colgan should have known this. The co-pilot flew cross-country the previous night to get to work.

We cannot get back the poor souls who died aboard that flight. Of course that is the tragedy. I hope prosecutors take a very close look at Colgan’s actions and criminal charges, if warranted, are pressed. In that regard prosecutors should be strict.

One last thing. This Colgan flight flew with the Continental name and livery on the plane and tickets. I’m not sure how responsible Continental is, but maybe it’s time we stopped little operations flying with the more respectable name of their partners… or held the named carrier to blame.

2 thoughts on “Colgan Air Disgusts Me”

  1. Colgan is a local northeast based contractor. I’ve been on a ‘United’ Colgan airplane, and I think USAIR uses them as well. Used to be American had a different vendor for its local flights, but with the consolidation of companies lately, it is possible that Colgan is the only game in town.

    Very sad state of affairs…

  2. Geoff,

    The pay levels you mention are not solely limited to Colgan. People are always surprised when I tell them how much pilots flying for the airlines make since it seems their frame of reference is the grey haired captain flying the international routes around the world. The days of the well respected and well paid pilot are long behind us. While the senior folks at the major airlines make a good wage, it takes a very long time to reach that level. All the folks I went to school with are still slugging it out in the regionals as captains now and are finally now just getting on with the majors. This has taken 10 years given that 9/11 provided a major setback to the industry as well. They speak of being treated and paid as “glorified bus drivers” which is how I guess management looks upon them. I chose a different path within the aviation industry but I certainly know that America would be just as shocked as you are regarding the levels of training and compensation within the industry overall. I am obviously biased being “on the inside” and there are those who I am sure will take me to task but you can’t change the fact that the airlines rely on these regionals to service the smaller towns around the country since it’s the cheapest solution.



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