Relatives and friends of the passengers killed when Continental Connection Flight 3407 crashed outside Buffalo on Feb. 12 conducted a 10-mile memorial walk to mark the fatal accident’s one-year anniversary.
About 200 people gathered at a fire hall in Clarence, NY and walked the short distance to the street where the Newark-to-Buffalo flight plunged into a house, killing all 49 on board and a man inside the home.
After saying a prayer and laying a wreath at the now vacant lot, the group set out for Buffalo Niagara International to complete the journey the Colgan Air Bombardier DHC-8- 400 (N200WQ) turboprop never finished.
Organizers said the walk was meant to honor the lives lost, but also to push proposed safety legislation that addresses pilot training, fatigue and other issues cited by investigators.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determined that the captain of Colgan Air Flight 3407 inappropriately responded to the activation of the stick shaker, which led to an aerodynamic stall from which the airplane did not recover. The Safety Board’s probable cause determination also said additional flight crew failures contributed to the accident.
The two pilots, two flight attendants, and 45 passengers aboard the airplane were killed, one person on the ground also died. The flight had originated in Newark, NJ, the flight deck crew’s base station.
At the controls of the Dash 8 turboprop that day were Capt. Marvin Renslow, 47, who lived near Tampa, FL and First Officer Rebecca Shaw, 24, who had commuted across the country overnight from Seattle, WA, where she lived with her parents. Pilot fatigue is suspected to have contributed to the fatal accident.
The NTSB/s final report on the accident states that, when the stick shaker activated to warn the flight crew of an impending aerodynamic stall, the captain should have responded correctly to the situation by pushing forward on the control column. However, the captain inappropriately pulled aft on the control column, stalling the aircraft.
Contributing to the accident were the crewmembers’ failure to: recognize the position of the low-speed cue on their flight displays, which indicated that the stick shaker was about to activate; and, their failure to adhere to sterile cockpit procedures. Other factors were the captain’s failure to effectively manage the flight; and, Colgan Air’s inadequate procedures for airspeed selection and management during approaches in icing conditions.
As a result of this accident probe, the Safety Board issued numerous recommendations to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regarding strategies to prevent flight crew monitoring failures, pilot professionalism, fatigue, remedial training, pilot records, stall training, and airspeed selection procedures.
Additional advisories from the NTSB address FAA’s oversight and use of safety alerts for operators to transmit safety-critical information, flight operational quality assurance (FOQA) programs, use of personal portable electronic devices on the flight deck, and weather information provided to pilots.
At a Feb. 4 congressional hearing Transportation Department Inspector General Calvin Scovel said the FAA has fallen behind schedule or failed to meet goals on eight of 10 measures the aviation agency said it would take, including new regulations to prevent pilot fatigue.
Scovel said the FAA took swift action to accelerate efforts to address pilot workforce issues and other regional airline safety enhancements. “However, progress has been limited in implementing initiatives with the greatest potential to improve safety, such as issuing new rules governing rest and training. The FAA has not followed up to ensure air carriers’ Call to Action commitments effectively meet planned safety goals. Finally, other critical issues emerged after the Colgan accident that remain unaddressed, such as potential correlation between aviation accidents and pilot experience and compensation,” he added.
He said the FAA maintains that it ensures one level of safety for all air carriers. “However, recent fatal accidents and the resulting scrutiny raise questions as to disparities in regional and mainline operations that could impact safety, particularly in terms of pilot training, fatigue and professionalism. The FAA must develop initiatives that address root causes of safety problems and implement a process to measure their progress and impact on safety,” Scovel testified.
FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said his agency is moving as fast as it can in implementing the safety reforms.
“In an agency dedicated to aviation safety, any failure in the system, especially one that causes loss of life, is keenly felt. When accidents do happen, they reveal risks, including the tragic Colgan Air accident. Consequently, it is incumbent on all parties in the system to identify the risks in order to eliminate or mitigate them,” he told the lawmakers.
As regards pilot flight time, rest and fatigue, Babbit said “in spite of my direction for a very aggressive timeline in which to develop a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), my hope that a rulemaking proposal could have been issued by the end of last year did not happen. The complexities involved with these issues are part of the reason why the FAA has struggled to finalize proposed regulations on fatigue and duty time that were issued in the mid-1990s. However, with my continued emphasis on this topic, we hope to issue an NPRM this spring. Although this is slightly later that I originally hoped, it is still an extremely expedited schedule and I can assure you the FAA team working on this is committed to meeting the target.”
One of the issues contributing to fatigue is that of pilots who commute by air to their job.
“Should some sort of hard and fast commuting rule be imposed, it could result in families being separated, people being forced to sell homes at a loss, or even people being forced to violate child custody agreements. I understand that, to people not familiar with the airline industry, the issue of living in one city and working hundreds of miles away in another does not make sense. But in the airline industry, this is not only a common practice, it is one airline employees have come to rely on. So I want to emphasize these issues are complex and, depending on how they are addressed, could have significant impacts on people’s lives,” the former airline pilot noted.
As regards crew training requirements, The FAA has issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) that considers possible alternative requirements, such as an endorsement on a commercial license to indicate specific qualifications.
“I know some people are suggesting that simply increasing the minimum number of hours required for a pilot to fly in commercial aviation is appropriate. As I have stated repeatedly, I do not believe that simply raising quantity – the total number of hours of flying time or experience – without regard to the quality and nature of that time and experience – is an appropriate method by which to improve a pilot’s proficiency in commercial operations” he stated.
The ANPRM requests public comment on various options. For example, a newly-certificated commercial pilot might be limited to certain activities until he or she could accumulate the type of experience deemed potentially necessary to serve as a first officer for an air carrier.
“We are looking at ways to enhance the existing process for pilot certification to identify discrete areas where an individual pilot receives and successfully completes training, thus establishing operational experience in areas such as the multi-pilot environment, exposure to icing, high altitude operations and other areas common to commercial air carrier operations.
“We view this option as being more targeted than merely increasing the number of total flight hours required, because it will be obvious to the carrier what skills an individual pilot has. There is a difference between knowing a pilot has been exposed to all critical situations during training versus assuming that simply flying more hours automatically provides that exposure,” Babbitt told the legislators.