Buffalo Crash Prompts Airline Code Sharing Inquiry

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By Tanya Roth, Esq. on February 03, 2010 9:45 AM

According to the Washington Post, on the final day of the hearings investigating the 2009 crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407, the chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, Deborah Hersman, announced further discussion by her staff into the practice of code sharing by airlines. The February 12, 2009 crash near Buffalo, New York, killed 50 people, making it the deadliest U.S. transportation accident in seven years.

The Post reports that the flight under investigation was provided by a regional carrier Colgan, but the passengers bought their tickets for the flight from Continental Airlines. According to the Transportation Department, the past six fatal commercial aviation accidents in the United States involved regional carriers. This may be one reason the NTSB has decided to take further steps to look into the prevalent use of code sharing in the airline industry.

According to the GSA, code sharing is a commercial agreement between two airlines that allows an airline to put its two-letter identification code on the flights of another airline as they appear in computerized reservations systems. Under this system, when a passenger buys a ticket on a flight under the name of one airline, the plane and crew may actually belong to a other. As occured with Continental flight 3407, the passengers purchased tickets from national carrier Continental, but the pilot and plane were part of the Colgan company, a regional carrier. During the recent NTSB and congressional hearings, the Post reported that concerns were raised regarding problems associated with difficult working conditions and lax government oversight of regional carriers.

About 60 family members who lost loved ones in the crash were present at the hearings. They expressed hope that the NTSB's final report would add momentum to congressional efforts to strengthen aviation laws.

Chairman Deborah Hersman said the NTSB would use the upcoming staff symposium to explore code sharing agreements in detail, given their broad use in the airline industry.

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