Airline industry insiders are raising serious safety concerns about regional carriers like Colgan. We reported last night on hearings into that February plane crash near Buffalo that killed 50 people, which revealed that pilots for commuter airlines often work very long hours for very little pay. That prompted some strong reaction from the pilots themselves who reached out to ABC News' Lisa Stark directly via email.
We got this response from a pilot who works for a regional airline:
My biggest complaint about the regional airline industry is the way the pilots are paid and treated. Pilot training is intense and grows many kids up quick. however Regional airlines say that since they are a stepping stone for pilots to go onto bigger carriers they can pay and treat them poorly. More than fatigue it is low pilot moral that would be a bigger safety concern. Poor pay = stress= unpaid bills = stress = depression= inattention to cockpit duties.
It is the same as all industries. One gets what they pay for. Higher pay = more productivity & better safety. I had a supervisor tell me one time that "pay is not related to professionalism" when I complained about the pay (off record). I have no clue where he learned that.
I fly on regional airlines all the time. I think it is the pilots that actually make all airlines safer. Computers/airplanes break all the time. Studies have shown on average a pilot will face 6-10 threats per flight. And yet aviation has a better safety record than driving. However everyone makes mistakes. Sometimes very expensive ones. My family flew with me on one of the Colgan planes just last week(off record)
I don't think that safety is being sacrificed. However the maintenance dept leaves a lot to be desired. So does the FAA. Did you know that we have many FAA checks. however they only check cosmetic things. Seat torn here.......sticker missing there. THE FAA WILL NEVER START A AIRPLANE ENGINE AND ACTUALLY RUN IT UP TO CHECK FOR PROBLEMS BECAUSE OF LIABILITY ISSUES. Now that's a huge loophole.
As for the Maintenance dept they get a lot of new faces, high turnover, inexperienced guys. We write broken things up and a lot of times it is "ops check good".. Sometimes the same item is written up several times over. However if the item is a safety issue the pilots will usually refuse to fly the airplane forcing maintenance to fix the problem.
Sterile Cockpit is the Rule that is broken everyday in 99.99% of airplanes cockpit on every flight. However I must mention that one cannot sit quite throughout. Conversation is ok to keep attention and prevents fatigue by keeping the pilot actually focused on the more important duty of flying. A quite cockpit leads to sleepy pilots specially in regional turboprop airlines where most legs are flown below 10000 flight the entire time. I am not defending idle chatter as a excuse not to do ones duty. All the pilots I have flown with will do their jobs well and stop all non essential conversation when required. I must mention that pilots learn a lot from each other’s experiences and mistakes. Most of this experience is exchanged in the cockpit when flying.
Another email came to us anonymously:
If you folks only knew what happens at these bottom feeder regional’s, it would shock you. I'm a professional pilot - and I won't let my family ride on one.
You pay for what you get, and regional airlines don't pay a livable wage.
Maintenance is shoddy at best. Remember, they are cutting corners on all aspects related to their operations - including maintenance.
Major airlines put out a RFQ (request for quote) for all of their regional flying. They go with the cheapest. In order to be the cheapest - you pay pilots virtually nothing (hence you get the least experienced pilots), and you cut corners on maintenance everywhere you can, and you carry the least amount of pilots as possible. Those that are there work horrendous schedules, and you’re lucky if they are half awake.
Pilots are threatened if they call in sick or are fatigued by the regional airlines. All the airline cares about is a butt in the seat and that the flight happens. Sick pilot, fatigued pilot - that's not very important to them.
They say safety is #1, but realistically it's not. The almighty dollar is #1, and safety is a distant second - maybe.
I think you have recently seen the results of the current culture in regional airlines - 50 people recently paid for it with their lives.
It should have never happened.
This one came from a pilot who worked for regional airline: "Regional airlines hold their pilots to same standards as the major airline. Yet, regional airlines don't have the same work rules and compensation the major airlines offer, not even close." "There will be another Colgan 3407 if regulations and work rules are not changed. There are signs of it every day. Pilots flying tired, stressed, overworked and underpaid." "The flying public balks at expensive fares, but they want a Captain Sully in every cockpit, they can't have both." "The regional flying goes to the lowest bidder, not the one with the best compensated pilots and best safety records."
Another pilot pilote wrote:
"I am not defending idle chatter as a excuse not to do ones duty," he said. "All the pilots I have flown with will do their jobs well and stop all non essential conversation when required. I must mention that pilots learn a lot from each other's experiences and mistakes. Most of this experience is exchanged in the cockpit when flying."