Friday, May 15, 2009

• Continental Flight 3407 – Casting Blame on Pilots?

North American media has published the pictures of the cockpit crew at the controls of Continental Flight 3407 when it went down in New York on Feb. 12, killing 50 people. Most prominent in the coverage is the 24-year-old co-pilot and her $23 per hour salary, plus the fact that she supposedly had a second job working in a coffee shop. There you have it. Right there. That’s your guilty party.

The media coverage on the young lady, and the blame-throwing, is relentless, … too young, too underpaid, too inexperienced, too tired, living with her parents, and on top of all that, she flew to her co-piloting shift from Seattle in the cockpit of a red-eye flight, and then had the gall to rest or nap illegally in a crew lounge before taking another flight to Newark where she reported for duty. Why else would she not have noticed the alarm indicating a sudden drop in speed? Why else, other than from exhaustion or incompetence would the pilot, reacting too late to the stall with a pull instead of a push on the controls, have conflicted with the plane’s auto-correction system that was attempting to bring the nose down? Boy did they ever mess-up.

Oh, and wait, that’s not all. The pilot failed tests and lied on his application when he was hired by Colgan Air. He probably earned $55,000 per year like other Colgan Pilots. Well, that’s it then. That confirms it. The cockpit crew was to blame for the crash.

Or are they?

Let’s ignore that there was ice on the windshield and on the leading edge of the wings. It was winter, and planes fly in winter. All kinds of planes, including the Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 twin engine turboprop. The severe weather conditions mean that extra measures of caution and diligence are required on the part of all individuals with any responsibility for putting the plane into the air including ground crews, and control towers.

Regardless the weather or technical conditions, ultimate responsibility for who occupies the two seats at the front of the plane rests in the company executives who make the decisions on who fills them. Experience or lack thereof, talented or not, an employer decided that a 24 year old co-pilot and a 47 year of pilot, had enough experience and proficiency to safely transport a plane full of travelers to their destinations.

The media’s unsubtle accusations, as it trumpets a 24 years old, including her picture, who held down two jobs to pay the rent, and who was placed in a situation with which she and her partner in the cockpit were unfamiliar, is unconscionable. We are also understandably surprised that anyone flying a passenger plane would only be paid $23 per hour. Do we not all assume that pilots, particularly those responsible for passengers require wheel barrows to haul their cash home on payday?

The grieving families who lost loved ones on that flight deserve better reporting. Society in general deserves better analysis by the media of a service which has become critical to its daily functioning, but whose financial cutbacks have brought practices of some providers too close to the edge of unsafe, and whose regulators should revisit the application of their rules guiding safe aviation.


  1. You are dead on Mr. Raider.

    It was an accident waiting to happen. To focus on the blah blah blah of the pilot & co-pilot plays right into the FAA's and Colgan's hands. Maybe the 2 hour delay contributed to the pilots lack of attentiveness. No mention of that in these hearings.

    Do we need to be informed of pilot experience before we board a plane? I would certainly be more comfortable with Capt. Sully than Capt. Renlsow. You put Sully in that cockpit and this tragedy would not have happened.

    Fatal mistakes were made by the crew in charge. Fatal mistakes were also made by the system that employed them.

  2. Anonymous,

    We depend on certain oversight bodies to take care of the details, ... obviously, this is assumptive and we shouldn't be making assumptions. Result = As you say, "do we need to be informed of pilot experience before we board a plane?"

  3. Well you wanted deregulation.
    I have exhausted myself talking with the public about how safety had been degraded in exchange for cheep tickets.
    I truly believe that at these salaries, the "best and the brightest" will seek work in another industry ( after all, they are bright). United's KERP (key employee retention plan) diverted money to its executives plans at the expense of the real KEY employees.
    Its like a stop sign... we get one only after a few more spectacular events like this one?

    How does that make you feel?

  4. Once more, you're right on the mark with the rush to judgement by the MSM on the tragic crash. The real tragedy here, apart from the loss of the plane and its passengers, is the unrelenting fact that our government has once more let us down.

    Just like the SEC, the FAA, which is nominally in charge of regulating this industry, has proven wholly inadequate and unattentive. These folks are the ones who should be called on the carpet and have aspersions thrown at them...

  5. Good Blog!

    The press is falling in line with the "official" report - putting all the blame on Captain Renslow and First Officer Rebecca Shaw. Some salacious news papers even claimed the cockpit recordings revealed the older captain flirting with his younger co-pilot. I read the complete cockpit recording and there was absolutely no flirting. The captain did most of the talking and it was clean, but it should have been cut after 10,000 feet.

    The First Officer had much more hours in the Dash
    400 than the Captain. She even admits to wanting to have a winter in the northeast before she's promoted to a captain. That's smart, good thinking. The Captain didn't seem phased by the ice yet had a few hundred hours in it.

    The red light, indicating dangerously low speed should have popped into the vision of both pilots. And that Colgan never trained Captain Renslow on how to handle the shocking stickshake and autodive(he instead pulled up, which was so wrong), speaks to Colgan's lack of training for its pilots.

    And it's damned sad that Captain Renslow was moonlighting up until last fall at his local grocery store as at stock 'boy', in order to make ends meet. Just as it wasn't right F.O. Shaw had to moonlight as a barista and move back in with her parents(along with her new husband).

    I'll never forget their last words on that recorder when they're in eye sight of the ground(houses/trees)....Renslow said "we're down"....And there was a massive thud sound. Shaw then said "we", then screamed. May they and their passengers R.I.P.