Some of the conditions at Colgan Airlines -- and possibly other carriers -- are "a recipe for an accident," a member of the National Transportation Safety Board said today during the second day of a hearing examining the crash of Colgan Air flight 3407 near Buffalo, N.Y. in February.
The turbo prop went down on approach to the airport, killing all 49 on board, and one person on the ground.
The focus today was largely on pilot fatigue, and particularly the fact that the first officer had commuted overnight to her flights in Newark from her home in Seattle.
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"The question is, knowing the consequences of fatigue, what are the policies that are in place, or were in place, to mitigate fatigue?" NTSB board member Kitty Higgins asked.
"When you put together the commuting patterns ... the pay levels ... I think it's a recipe for an accident, and that is what we have here," Higgins said.
In the cockpit that night were Capt. Marvin Renslow and first officer Rebecca Shaw. Both were based in Newark for Colgan Air, but Renslow commuted from his home in Florida, and Shaw from Washington State.
Neither had living accommodations in Newark, and both were spotted trying to nap on Colgan Air crew room couches the morning of the accident flight.
NTSB board members questioned how the airline would expect first officers such as Shaw -- whose salary was just under $24,000 per year, according to Colgan Air -- to afford a place in Newark to rest.
"I would expect them the way other pilots do, and other pilots have done for many years who commuted in and out of different bases," said Daniel Morgan, Colgan Air's vice president of flight safety. "People do find ways to share rooms, to share apartments."
Morgan agreed with the board, though, that, "many of the things we've heard about (flight) 3407 has been very dismaying and very troubling to us."
It is not uncommon in aviation for pilots to commute to the cities where they are based. NTSB investigators found that at Colgan Air's Newark operations, 93 of the 137 pilots there commuted. Of those, 29 lived more than 1,000 miles from Newark.
NTSB board member Debbie Hersman grilled Colgan Air's vice president of flight operations Harry Mitchel on the fatigue issue.
"Your commuting policy says that crew members shouldn't commute on the day that their shift begins, but (Shaw) began her commute on the day before her shift began, but she finished her commute on the day that the shift began. So how do you monitor this policy and how is it enforced?" Hersman said.
"It's not a firm, hard policy," Mitchel said. "It's guidelines to our crew members."
Mitchel and other Colgan officials insisted that pilots must take responsibility for their behavior.
"We expect, and we hire professionals, and those professionals we expect should show up fresh, ready to fly that aircraft and we provide adequate rest for those individuals," Mitchel said.
"Captain Renslow had nearly 22 consecutive hours of time off before he reported for duty on the day of the accident," Colgan Air said in a statement today. "Also, first officer Shaw had been off work for three days since her last flight."
The regional airline, which operates commuter flights for Continental, USAirways and United, also faced sharp questions on Renslow's hiring.