WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE CRASH OF COLGAN FLIGHT #3407?
Last February 2009, Colgan Air flight #3407 crashed in upstate New York while on approach to land at Buffalo International Airport. A lot has been written since then about the cause of the accident. There have been two Senate hearings and a Congressional investigation. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is still investigating and has not yet come up with a cause. We all listened in horror to the cockpit recordings of the last minutes of the flight that killed fifty people. We ask ourselves, Why did it happen?
The NTSB is tasked with determining the exact causes of aircraft accidents. NTSB investigations over the years have blamed the FAA as being responsible for aircraft accidents because of Lack of Oversight. It is an official term meaning that, if the FAA was properly doing its job, the accident may have been prevented. The FAA has made mistakes in the past, causing accidents. In some instances, aircraft designs needed to be changed to the make the aircraft safer. An airport tower controller was at fault, or maybe pilot training needs be improved. These, of course, are errors and mistakes. We are human and mistakes will be made. The FAA calls it Lessons Learned, fixes the mistakes and life goes on.
Immediately upon taking office, President Obama appointed a new Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary, Raymond LaHood. Mr. LaHood has experience in aviation and immediately set to work changing the FAA. In May 2009 he appointed Randall Babbitt the new FAA Administrator. Mr. Babbitt also has a background in aviation. In the past, most DOT and FAA appointments were people with little or no experience in aviation. This, of course, seems like a good start to fix the problems in aviation. In a statement to the media this past June, LaHood and Babbitt both agreed that the past administration is responsible for the problems with the FAA. They stated, The problems of the past will not happen under a LaHood-Babbitt administration. Strong words for a new administration!
Last year, former FAA management was accused by Congress of misleading them during Congressional hearings about a cozy relationship between the FAA and Southwest Airlines. As a former safety inspector, I have seen first hand FAA not reporting accidents and incidents properly. Mishaps with two aircraft almost hitting one another on a runway were classified as a pilot deviation. Near midair collisions were not disclosed or were again reported as pilot deviations. FAA was once more misleading Congress and the American people!
The cause of the crash of Colgan Air flight 3407 will be decided soon. The FAA will likely be found guilty with Lack of Proper Oversight a contributing factor. It appears the pilots had training and experience issues. NTSB will put the most blame on them. After all, if FAA was properly doing its job, the problems of an air carrier would be caught during routine surveillance. Administrator Babbitt stated in the media that he has found unacceptable procedures in regional airline operations. The Administrator is a pilot and knows problems with an airline when he sees them. Yes, the FAA is to blame for the Colgan crash. The question is the extent to which the FAA is really responsible. Startling accusations have been reported in the media that FAA actually prevented their own inspector from reporting problems a full year before the crash. Those accusations are pending an investigation. However, it was further discovered that FAA inspector Chris Monteleon, the individual who had responsibility for Colgan Air, personally observed problems with a flight crew at Colgan and opened an investigation on the airline. FAA management abruptly closed the investigation and removed Mr. Montelon pending disciplinary action. One wonders why. Why would the FAA do something like this to one of their own inspectors?
So, who is responsible for the crash of Colgan flight 3407? Obviously, there were crew problems and the FAA did not inspect the air carrier properly. The agency clearly is guilty of a lack of proper oversight. Or is the FAA guilty of a more serious crime? What are the ramifications of FAA management deliberately not addressing observed problems with one of their operators and removing their own inspector in the course of doing his required surveillance? How could they possibly justify closing the investigation against the will of that inspector? Eleven months later, the Colgan Air crash occurred. Could this terrible accident have been prevented if FAA had acted in accordance with their mandate to protect the flying public? We may never know. By going against their own law, the FAA unquestionably never even gave itself the opportunity. The new DOT management is investigating. If it is revealed that former FAA management is found guilty of these allegations, then they must be held accountable.
Richard Wyeroski is a former FAA Inspector based at the Farmingdale Flight Standards District Office at Republic Airport. He is a member of the FAA Whistleblowers Alliance, an organization made up of current and former FAA employees dedicated to monitoring and reporting serious issues about the FAA. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org