Dangerous Skies? NTSB to Issue Report on Colgan Air Crash

Report Finds Safety Lapses, Serious Shortcomings in Pilot Training, Wages

ByABC News via logo
February 2, 2010, 7:55 AM

Feb. 2, 2010— -- It was nearly a year ago when a Colgan Air flight, operating as Continental Connection Flight 3407, slammed onto the ground as it approached the airport near Buffalo, N.Y., killing 50 people.

Today, that crash is the focus of a new National Transportation Safety Board report, which will highlight safety lapses by commuter airlines. The board, which will present its findings on the accident, is likely to criticize an airline industry suffering from serious shortcomings, using pilots with too little experience, inadequate training, poverty wages, long commutes and suffering from fatigue. The NTSB is also likely to take the Federal Aviation Administration to task for its oversight of the industry.

And in a sign of how much needs to be done to prevent such crashes from happening again, the NTSB today will issue an unusually high number of safety recommendations to make travelers safer in the skies.

"I think the biggest red flags here are going to be pilot hiring, the training and the monitoring because all these appear to have been substandard," ABC News aviation consultant John Nance said on "Good Morning America" today. "There's never just one cause in an accident but ... this really does show a lot of the problems in the industry and the wages really have to be looked at."

Should Regional Airline Safety Be Improved? ABC News Wants to Hear from You.

Families of Colgan Air victims, still looking for answers, are frustrated by what they see as a slow investigation process.

"A year after the accident, where are we? That's a big question, where are we?" asked Scott Maurer, whose daughter Lorin was killed in the crash. "In my viewpoint, we've heard a lot of lip service."

Maurer was appalled to learn that safety was not pilots' top priority, a point pilots know too well.

"They [Colgan] said safety was priority, a lot," former Colgan Air pilot Chris Wiken said. "In my experience, however, on a day-to-day basis, being on time and completing the flight was much more important."

Wiken, who flew for Colgan Air for four years, is in a new "Frontline" documentary that airs next week. The show exposes the living conditions for some pilots who work for commuter airlines. One former Colgan pilot told "Frontline" about his "crash pad," a small, two-bedroom apartment that housed nine pilots.

"We had guys ... sleeping on the couch. They rented a couch. Guys rented a closet, a big, walk-in closet," former Colgan pilot Corey Heiser told "Frontline."

The investigation into last February's crash shows how meagerly the pilots were living and the long hours they worked. First Office Rebecca Shaw, who was co-piloting the fateful Colgan Air flight, made $22,000 a year and lived with her parents. She commuted across the country to save money.

But as big of a challenge as it may be, the issue of pilot wages and fatigue is something regulators can't change. The FAA is "terrified to get into this question of what happens to pilots off-duty," Nance said, but the responsibility to address such concerns ultimately falls to the carriers.

"We certainly still need to see the fatigue issue addressed. That is without question," Capt. Paul Rice, first vice president of the Air Line Pilots Association, said. "We need to see educational issues addressed and we need to see new pilot hiring. And, of course, what we need to see is a continued improvement in the labor and management relations so that we can more fully implement safety programs."