Saturday, June 27, 2009

Update on regional airlines

In the wake of a string of deadly regional airline crashes, none more egregious than the Colgan Crash in Buffalo, the Federal Aviation Administration is finally taking some steps in the right direction.

It's listening to Squawking VFR.

After our special report detailing the safety chasm between mainline and regional airlines on May 19, the agency Wednesday recommended several changes that addressed the lapses that led to Buffalo as well as the overall safety of regionals.

A list of recommendations introduced included:

- Addressing fatigue. New rules governing flight and rest time for crews.

- Immediate development of a system for tracking pilots who repeatedly fail performance evaluations.

- Demand that mainline airlines ask their regional partners to "mirror their most effective safety practices."

- Upgrade training standards.

Overall, these are only ambiguous proposals, and there's a ton of pencil-pushing ahead before anything of substance gets done. But the fact the notoriously slow-to-act FAA is issuing these recommendations provides unstated acknowledgment of the severity in the safety gap between regionals and mainliners, which forgive me for mentioning, was first unearthed here at Squawking VFR.

A couple of things stand out from this report.

First, there's the simple fact that the Colgan crash in Buffalo is becoming a watershed moment for U.S. commercial aviation, the likes of which perhaps have not been seen since the crash of an L-1011 in Dallas in August of '85 that prompted sweeping interest, research and investment in equipment to help combat wind shear and microbursts.

Next, the most interesting of these proposals to me is the third, and it's also the one that leaves me most skeptical.

The FAA is essentially saying that regionals should be held to the same standards as the majors, which is great and everything. But one of the main reasons the majors contract with the regionals is because there is less-stringent requirements in place.

When you hire a pilot with 1,000 hours, you don't have to pay him or her as much as one with 10,000 hours. In terms of experience, it goes without saying that you get what you pay for.

And I'm skeptical of how that could really change or be legislated.

Don't get me wrong, it's good -- and past due -- that the FAA is trying. But whatever proposals they bring to the table will probably meet fierce resistance from the airlines and their lobbying minions.

I hope the proposals don't get watered down, because as I've stated before, the flying public deserves something more than the regional owners ducking the blame for an unenviable safety track record.


At 5:03 PM, Blogger Todd Cohen said...

I didn't realize you had so much pull in the aviation arena, cat. Nice job.

Now, if they can cushion the overhead compartments lives like Billy Mays would continue to haunt me at 2 a.m.

On second thought...


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