[UPDATE, 2 pm MT: According to the AP, the plane that crashed near Buffalo was inexplicably on autopilot at the time it went down. The AP attributes this to Steve Chealander of the NTSB. However, there is no direct quote from Chealander stating that the plane was on autopilot, just a paraphrase (though he does discuss autopilot operations in general in direct quotes). I am always wary of paraphrases.]
[Update 7 pm MT: As I suspected, the AP seems to have it wrong. Paraphrasing is often thin ice. The auto-pilot disengaged before the crash, is what the NTSB actually said.]
Here are some more things to consider after the horrible Buffalo crash:
1. Here's an alert from the National Transportation Safety Board on the dangers of aircraft icing, from December. The NTSB is famously careful about maintaining its boundaries, but I'm saying here that a public rift is developing between the transportation safety board, which is respected by professional pilots, and the Federal Aviation Administration, which is not. In fact, the FAA is seen with good reason as a stooge of the airlines. (Remember, till it got nailed last year, the FAA referred to airlines as its "customers.")
[For more evidence of a widening rift between the NTSB and the FAA, look at this report in today's Buffalo News. It quotes Jim Hall, the former chairman of the NTSB, accusing the FAA of "lax oversight" ... "in its failure to adequately address known safety risks related to icing."]
It's important to note, though, that while icing is a known hazard, icing has not been determined to have caused the Buffalo crash, which is under investigation. And often, airplane crashes result from a chain of events.
2.Another issue that needs to be addressed more clearly: The first officer working for Colgan Air on the doomed Buffalo flight was 24 years old and made less than $30,000 a year. It's widely known that regional airlines captains are expected to "train" co-pilots on the job. We need to know a whole lot more about that.
3. And a big issue bubbling just below the surface, which desperately needs attention, is regional-airline pilot fatigue. Again, it's clear that the NTSB is sending signals that the FAA is not on the job:
Look at this NTSB accident report on a Pinnacle Airlines regional flight that ran off a runway in Michigan with 52 on board during in snowy conditions in 2007. "Poor decision-making likely reflected the effects of fatigue produced by a long, demanding duty day," the report says. "Contributing to the accident," the NTSB adds pointedly, were "the Federal Aviation Administration flight-and-duty-time regulations that permitted the pilots' long, demanding day."
By the way, Pinnacle Airlines owns Colgan Air, which operated the Continental Airlines regional Dash 8 Q400 turboprop aircraft that crashed.
And also by the way, if you're a regional airline pilot and you have something you think needs to be said about fatigue, pop me an e-mail at email@example.com