Airline Safety Hearing Underway Following Fatal Buffalo Crash

Since the catastrophic <"">Buffalo plane crash earlier this year that caused the death of 50 people, government has been focusing on increasing airline safety regulations. RTTNews reported that those speaking before a United States Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation agreed that airline safety regulations call for improvement, but offered different solutions.

Witnesses, advocates, experts, and surviving family members spoke before the Senate subcommittee, said RTTNews, regarding pilot training’s and crew behavior’s impact on air safety.

The Associated Press (AP) recently pointed out that the captain of the fatal Buffalo crash probably never received direct safety system training, the co-pilot discussed her lack of experience flying in icy conditions (based on flight voice recorder data), and pilot fatigue was probably at play. These types of stressors and training gaps are of particular concern, noted the Wall Street Journal, previously.

For instance, earlier this year, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspectors discovered over 20 different “alleged” violations such as failure to receive FAA approval for training aids, “incomplete manuals, and trained dispatchers and supervisors,” said the Journal. Senator Byron Dorgan (Democrat-North Dakota), chairman of the subcommittee said, “disclosures about crew rest, compensation, training, and many other issues demonstrate the urgent need” to revisit commuter safety, quoted the Journal.

RTTNews reported that Captain John Prater, President of Airline Pilots Association International, said at the hearing, that the airline industry must ensure the same safety standards are in place for commercial and regional flights. According to Prater, resolving the problems with pilot training fatigue would go a long way to ensuring air safety, said RTTNews. Prater noted that regional pilots do not receive the same level of training as commercial pilots. For instance, regional pilots only receive the minimum amount of required training, and can achieve captain level much sooner today than when he received that designation after over a decade of flight time, said RTTNews.

Jim May, the President and CEO of the Air Transportation Association of America and Roger Cohen, President of the Regional Airline Association, also offered recommendations, said RTTNews. May suggested a centralized database of pilot and crew records, while Cohen suggested convening safety professionals to look at procedures and implementing a fatigue awareness management program, reported RTTNews. Prater noted that regional pilot fatigue is a huge issue given that these pilots often live a distance from flight base locations.

The Continental Flight 3407 crash killed all 49 crew and passengers and one resident on the ground in Buffalo, NY on February 12 and while investigators told a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) panel that an early-warning alarm might have alerted the crew to the drop in speed that preceded the tragic Buffalo crash, experts have also blamed inadequate pilot training and a need for improved cockpit discipline.

A prior Chicago Tribune report pointed to evidence from the aircraft’s voice data recorder that the pilot and co-pilot were “distracted.” In a prior Journal report, it said transcripts revealed the “crew engaged in a prolonged chit-chat as the plane descended from cruise altitude and then prepared to land,” a violation of “basic aviation rules,” in which conversations about nonflight issues during certain flight phases is prohibited. Under the “sterile cockpit rule,” pilots on commercial flights are banned from “extraneous conversations, especially when flying under 10,000 feet, said the Journal. The New York Daily News also reported that, according to federal officials, “their own idle” cockpit “chatter” likely distracted the pilot and co-pilot.

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