Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Colgan Air Crash Hearing Could Expose Larger Problem


As the National Transportation Safety Board begins its hearing today into the cause of the crash of Continental Express flight 3407, I draw your attention to the list at the end of my comments, which I assembled after reviewing the accident database for all regional airline accidents in the United States over the past 10 years.

There were eleven accidents, eight of which included injuries or fatalities. During this same period there were three accidents involving large airline operations. (September 11 terror attacks excluded)

Regional jets and turbo prop aircraft account for about 40% of commercial aviation in the United States, but these carriers are involved in a disproportionate share of accidents. The carriers who contract for these services, American, USAirways, Delta, Northwest, Continental and the Federal Aviation Administration itself say regional airlines are held to the same level of safety as large airlines.
Continental was operating the Colgan flight from Newark to Buffalo under a lift agreement with Continental. "Prior to entering any agreement we conduct due diligence to make sure they comply with government and safety regulations," Continental spokeswoman Julie King told me after the Colgan crash, "But because they are a part of the oversight system, the F.A.A. is really their oversight."
Regional airlines operate under “fee for departure” agreements with nearly all the large carriers. These agreements provide narrow profit margins that in turn create pressures to delay maintenance, hire low-time pilots and flight attendants and other economies that impact safety.
Some of these issues are expected to come up at the hearing which is being held just two weeks shy of the first anniversary of the crash. That the board will examine not just the factors that directly contributed to the Colgan disaster, but those that haunt the regional aviation industry in general is a good thing.
Make no mistake there is a larger problem.
List of regional airline accidents since 2000
  1. Colgan Air 2.12.09 Fatalities 50 N200WQ (Continental Connection)
  2. Pinnacle Airlines 11.13.08 Injuries no fatalities N8698A (Northwest Airlink)
  3. Shuttle America 2.18.07 No fatalities N862RW (Delta Connection)
  4. Comair 8.27.06 Fatalities 49 N431CA(Delta Connection)
  5. Flying Boat Inc. 12.19.05 Fatalities 20 N2969 (Chalk's Ocean Airways)
  6. Executive Airlines 5.9.04 No fatalities N438AT (American Eagle)
  7. Corporate Airlines 10.19.2004 Fatalities 13 N875JX (American Connection)
  8. Pinnacle Airlines 10.14.04 Fatalities 2 N8396A (Northwest Airlink)
  9. Air Midwest Airlines 1.8.03 Fatalities 21 N233YV (USAirways Express)
  10. Colgan Air 8.26.03 Fatalities 2 N240CJ (Ferry flight)
  11. Peninsula Airways 10.10.01 Fatalities 9 N9530F
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