Airline that trained Buffalo crash pilot fined $1.3M

The federal government on Thursday issued a $1.3 million fine against a Florida airline that had trained the pilot of the commuter plane that crashed in February near Buffalo.

Gulfstream International Airlines, which flies for Continental Airlines in Florida and Ohio, falsified records showing how long its pilots worked, allowing the pilots to fly for more hours than federal law allows, the Federal Aviation Administration charged. The airline also installed unapproved parts and did not properly maintain its fleet of turboprops, the agency said.

The fine, which Gulfstream can challenge, is unusually large for a small airline. It operates 25 Beech 19D planes.

The company did not respond Thursday to telephone and email requests for comment on the FAA action.

Gulfstream and its sister company, Gulfstream Training Academy, offer pilots commercial experience in exchange for purchasing training. For about $25,000, a pilot with limited or no experience can work at "an actual airline flying real flights for Continental Connection," the academy's website says.

Capt. Marvin Renslow, who was at the controls when a Colgan Air commuter plane went wildly out of control and plunged to the ground on Feb. 12, trained with Gulfstream in 2004 and 2005, according to National Transportation Safety Board records. Colgan Air was operating under contract for Continental Airlines at the time of the Buffalo crash.

The copilot on a Comair flight that crashed in 2006 after trying to take off from a dark, closed runway in Lexington, killing 49 of 50 people aboard, also worked at Gulfstream, according to NTSB records. So did the two pilots on a Pinnacle Airlines flight who were joyriding in an empty jet before snuffing out both engines and crashing in Missouri in 2004. The pilots were the only people on board the Pinnacle flight.

Gulfstream is the best known of the handful of schools offering training pilots "pay to fly" services, said Louis Smith, President of FltOps.com, which helps pilots find jobs at airlines. Most would-be airline pilots train at colleges offering aviation programs or at traditional flight schools, Smith said.

Capt James Bystrom, director of Gulfstream Training Academy, said before the fine was announced that it would be unfair to blame accidents that occurred at other airlines on Gulfstream. Like thousands of other Gulfstream graduates who have gone on to other airlines, all those pilots had passed tests administered by FAA representatives and had completed training at their airlines, Bystrom said.

"We don't compromise on safety," he said.

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