Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Poor Piloting, Not Ice, Emerging as Probable Cause in Buffalo Crash

The Wall Street Journal today says that investigators are looking at pilot error, not ice buildup, as the cause of last week's crash near Buffalo of a Continental Airlines commuter plane operated by Pinnacle Airlines' Colgan Air subsidiary.

On approach to the airport, the plane was evidently flying too slow and about to stall (which means, fall out of the sky because it has no lift). "The pilot pulled back sharply on the plane's controls and added power, instead of following the proper procedure of pushing forward to lower the plane's nose to regain speed," the Journal said, quoting NTSB investigators. This ensured that the plane would in fact stall.

The NTSB is still investigating, and has not yet made an official determination of the cause or causes of the crash, which killed 50 people.

The pilot, Marvin Renslow, 47, had been flying the Dash 8 Q400 turboprop planes for only a few months. He made about $50,000 a year flying for Colgan. The co-pilot, Rebecca Lynne Shaw, 24, was also relatively inexperienced in the aircraft. Her salary was less than $30,000 a year.

Whatever the cause or causes of the crash, it is imperative that the media and the authorities look into who is actually flying these planes; how they are trained and paid; how their work schedule is set up (fatigue is a chronic complaint among regional airline flight crews); and the safety and maintenance records of these relatively unknown airlines that the well-known airlines use to fly their customers, who usually have no idea that they're flying on an airplane operated by a subcontractor who may have a questionable record.


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