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.
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.