Buffalo, New York- October 28, 2010 – In the wake of an National Transportation Safety Board symposium on airline code-share agreements and their impact on safety, the ‘Families of Continental Flight 3407’ issued the following statement:
“Despite assertions by the FAA that there is no such thing as a ‘regional’ airline, and by the Regional Airline Association that there is ‘One Level of Safety’ among all commecial carriers, we unfortunately know better. We unfortunately know what our loved ones didn’t know on February 12th, 2009; that getting on a plane painted in Continental colors operated by Continental, versus getting on a plane painted in Continental colors but actually operated by Colgan Air, often results in a significant difference on pilot experience and pay, the amount and sophistication of the training the pilots receive, and the money invested in safety management programs by that airline.
Over twenty months after this horrible and needless tragedy, the American traveling public continues to remain largely unaware of who actually is operating their flight. And this ignorance looms large as regional airlines have accounted for the last six fatal commercial crashes in our country, and now operate over half of all daily flights, with that number projected to continue to increase.
Of grave concern to our group is the significant gap in the pilot hiring requirements for the major airlines versus regional carriers. While most major carriers will not even consider applications from pilots with less than 1,500 hours, regional airlines can and will hire pilots right out of flight school with as little as 250 hours of experience, and then proceed to pay them salaries that can be less than $20,000 per year. This issue will take on greater prominence in two years as the first wave of sixty five year old pilots are forced to retire. Congress recently passed, and the President signed into law, legislation that will require all first officers to have an airline transport pilot (ATP) license, that is currently only required of captains, which will raise this minimum experience level to 1,500 hours and require additional qualitative competencies as well. However, there is a movement afoot led by the regional airlines themselves, to substitute up to 1,000 hours of academic coursework for actual hands-on time in the cockpit or simulator. This is a slap in the face to our efforts to raise the safety bar, and unfair to every American who flies.
Additionally, at an NTSB public hearing last May, our group was devastated to learn that Colgan Air did not choose to invest in industry best practices in the areas of pilot training and safety management programs, such as Threat and Error Management (TEM) training and a Flight Operational Quality Assurance (FOQA) program, initiatives which are not required by the FAA but which are standard practice at Continental and the other major airlines. At this week’s symposium, the Regional Airline Association shared statistics indicating that the participation by regional airlines in programs like these had improved dramatically. While we are cautiously optimistic about these numbers, we do remain concerned about the actual pace and level of implementation by these regional airlines – for instance, are they fully committed to outfitting every plane in their fleet with this technology and dedicating the personnel and resources necessary to allow their pilots to fully realize the benefits, or are they just ‘checking the box’ in an attempt to avoid greater public scrutiny. Passengers on regional airlines deserve nothing less than than the same commitment to, and investment in, training and safety made by the major carriers.
The Regional Airline Association can continue to spin all that it wants about what is an ‘assumption’ and what is a ‘fact’ as to the state of regional airline safety today. For us, the ‘FACTS’ remain that we needlessly lost our loved ones because they flew with Colgan Air, an airline that paid the First Officer food stamp-level wages, and did not provide training and safety programs to the level of Continental, the airline who sold the tickets. Thus we remain as committed as ever to ensuring that all future passengers receive what our loved ones did not; a TRUE ‘One Level of Safety.'”