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Regional Airline Safety: Senators Call for More FAA Oversight

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By David Goguen on May 20, 2009 8:40 AM

The safety and oversight of smaller regional airlines needs to be put under a microscope by the FAA, a U.S. Senate committee said in a letter sent this week to the U.S. Department of Transportation. 

The increased scrutiny of the operation and safety of smaller regional airlines has been sparked by the February 2009 crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407 Buffalo, which killed all 49 people on board and one person on the ground.

The letter from the Senate committee expresses concern over the fact that the pilot of Flight 3407 had failed a number of flight tests and may have been inadequately trained, and also raises the issue of crewmembers being overly fatigued due to long periods of travel before the beginning of their work shifts.

The Senate committee specifically requests that the U.S. Department of Transportation:

  • Examine air carrier training and certification programs, and whether the FAA's role in the oversight of this training can be improved to better guarantee pilot competency.
  • Compare flight simulator training and classroom instruction on stall warning systems (which likely played a role in the crash of Flight 3407), and the impact of both on flight safety.
  • Review FAA and air carrier guidelines on crew fatigue and rest requirements, and enforcement of these policies.

The letter was sent to Calvin L. Scovel, the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Transportation, by four members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation (read the Full Text of the Letter).

Last week, as reported here, an NTSB hearing on the crash of Flight 3407 found that the pilots might have lacked adequate training (especially with aircraft icing) and may have been overly fatigued. The crew of Flight 3407 also were recorded carrying on unnecessary informal conversation, in violation of "sterile" cockpit rules.