There is only one level of air safety. The problem is the experience level of the people who carry out that mission and the airplanes they must carry it out in.
There is no substitute for years in the cockpit and hours in make and model to ensure safety. A pilot can’t be worried that he doesn’t make enough to eat, put gas in his car, get his uniform cleaned or pay the rent if you want him to be clear headed enough to perform optimally. The salaries are too low, the benefits non-existent, the airplanes less than fully capable for the mission and still these kids do a great job. They make more takeoffs and landings in the worst weather and work the worst hours for the worst pay. They are motivated, enthusiastic and do their best to be safe. They are however for the most part youngsters and far less experienced than their big airline brothers.
Their airplanes still have outdated deicing systems but they are expected to fly in the worst icing. They commute to work because they can’t afford to live near their base and they are expected to perform at their highest level. Their dispatch is not to big airline standards and they are expected to deliver their passengers safely no matter what the delays, no matter what the weather and no matter how many legs they have flown in the soup.
Why is there surprise when one of them crashes?
What needs to happen is closer FAA oversight…heard that one before. They need a living wage and benefits. They need airplanes that are modern and safe in every respect i.e. no turboprops. They need the authority to cancel a flight without fear of retribution, read that getting fired, for doing so.
Continental Flight 3407 is an example of what’s wrong not with just commuters but with commercial aviation. They flew an airplane with boots that everyone knows do not work safely in many icing conditions and certainly those in existence that night. They were tired. They were not fully trained to understand the limitations of their aircraft, the limitations of its certification to fly in ice and what cues they would receive that the airplane was failing them and what to do about it. Maybe they should also have been told that if anything happens their company, the manufacturer, other pilots and the Government will turn on them and blame them for something for which they were blameless.
The problem with commuters isn’t their pilots, it’s the people who regulate them, run them and build the airplanes flown by them.
Arthur Alan Wolk
June 9, 2009