Ian Twombly

Colgan accident may mean big changes

June 14, 2009 by Ian J. Twombly, Associate Editor

February’s accident in which a Colgan Airlines Bombardier Q-400 crashed on approach to Buffalo International will result in changes to at least a few airline industry practices. It may sound obvious given the training, experience, pay, and fatigue issues that were raised in the days following the crash. But this week the FAA held the first of what it says will be many industry meetings aimed at figuring out solutions to some of these issues. And they’re apparently committed to making some changes.

Among some of the proposals are longer rest periods, higher pay, voluntary industry reporting of safety practices, and interestingly, more release of pilot records.

Some of the issues and their respective solutions makes sense, especially increased rest periods. But the release of a pilot’s record is something new entirely, and it’s more than a little troubling. For one thing, it’s a solution looking for a problem. The flight’s captain has been reported to have failed a few of his checkrides during his early training days, along with about 20 percent of his student pilot comrades nationwide.

The airlines have a very lengthy training regime. This we know, and while initially it was discussed in reference to the accident, now most seem to agree that Colgan’s training wasn’t an issue. So my question is if Colgan trained the captain well, how is his performance on the private pilot checkride at all relevant? If he failed checkrides in training that’s one thing. But dropping 100 feet on a steep turn on a private pilot checkride is quite another. Would the airline have hired him had they known about the failures? Maybe. Will they hire applicants in the future who have failed? No way. And the last time I checked, “checkride failure” wasn’t a common contributing factor in NTSB final reports.

So now we’re left with two major problems: Students fast tracking to the airlines will have immense pressure to perform on every checkride, and the FAA wants to make it easier to access a pilot’s personal file. The first point is less important for most of us, but I feel like it may lead to insider deals with examiners who never fail applicants at the big flight schools. Or worse, students who quit desk jobs in search of a dream airline career, only to fail their private pilot checkride.

The bigger issue for most pilots is what will happen in the future with pilot records. Now that record is only available if you release it. But how long will it remain that way? Will the FAA just release all of our records? How will it affect insurance? What about privacy concerns? There are too many questions right now without answers. I can only hope the fever dies down before we get to the gruesome details. And I’m not just saying that because I used the plotter wrong on my private pilot checkride.

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2 Responses to “Colgan accident may mean big changes”

  1. LEO ANGEVINE Says:

    A check ride falure does NOT necessarily indicate incompetence. In most cases, it means training required to meet a standard. If that standard is met, end of issue. It will be a huge mistake to make a single failure a disqualifying issue.
    L.G. Angevine
    Retired, past designated flight examiner.

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