Will Recent 3407 Crash Revelations Bring Change?

October 25, 2011 Updated Oct 25, 2011 at 8:07 PM EDT

By WKBW News

...
October 25, 2011 Updated Oct 25, 2011 at 8:07 PM EDT

United States Senator Charles Schumer issued a release and e-mails Wednesday stating:

E-mail Showing That Colgan Air Had Concerns About The Skill Level Of Pilot At The Helm Of 3407 Before The Crash Took Two and A Half Years To Uncover

In Personal Letter To Senate Colleague & Subcommittee Chair Maria Cantwell, Schumer Asks Commerce Subcommittee on Aviation To Hold Hearings on Implementation of Flight Safety Rules Passed In The Wake Of The Crash, Including Why Emails Were Not Released

JAMESTOWN, NY ( RELEASE ) On Tuesday, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer asked the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Aviation Chairwoman, Maria Cantwell, to hold a hearing to evaluate progress implementing aviation safety reforms and to examine the implications of newly released emails that were not available during the initial crash investigation. Schumer’s call comes after Colgan Air released an email as part of legal proceedings relating to the crash that showed that the company lacked confidence in the skills of the pilot in command of Continental flight 3407. Schumer, and the families of the victims of the crash, expressed dismay at the fact that the emails were not provided to the National Transportation Safety Board during the course of their investigation of the crash. In light of this fact, Schumer is calling for Senate hearings on oversight of aviation safety rules to include a review of the investigation process to determine if that process can be improved or the NTSB needed additional authorities to carry out their work.

“In the years and months following the crash, the NTSB has worked tirelessly to get to the bottom of the crash and its causes,” said Schumer. “However, the fact that relevant emails were not shared with investigators compels us to take a closer look at how we investigate crashed to make sure NTSB has the best information possible when making critical safety recommendations. I hope that my good friend Senator Cantwell will hold hearings so that we can truly uncover every last stone, and see if there are more lessons to be learned that could lead to safer skies.”

Emails revealed in litigation over the crash show that Colgan Air had concerns that the pilot at the controls when Flight 3407 crashed was not properly trained to fly the plane that crashed. The fact that the emails were revealed in a court case, and not turned over to the NTSB during their investigation raises questions about the process through which information is provided to the NTSB and if there are ways to improve upon the investigation process. during the NTSB’s investigation into the crash suggests that other details and key information could have slipped through the cracks and not received adequate attention during the federal investigation. In light of this revelation, Schumer is asking his colleague, Senator Cantwell, to hold hearings to review implementation of aviation safety legislation and to specifically examine the investigative process to make sure federal investigators have the tools and authorities they need to carry out their responsibilities.

A copy of Senator Schumer’s letter to Senator Cantwell appears below:

October 25, 2011

The Honorable John D. Rockefeller IV
Chairman
Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation
254 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable Maria Cantwell
Chairwoman
Senate Aviation Operations, Safety and Security Subcommittee
427 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senators Rockefeller and Cantwell,

I write to request that you hold a hearing in the Senate Commerce Committee to review implementation of PL 111-216, The Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Extension Act of 2010 and other issues affecting aviation safety. I thank you for your commitment to aviation safety and for working with the families of flight 3407 victims and myself to pass this legislation, a historic achievement that could not have been accomplished without your hard work.

The Federal Aviation Administration has already implemented some aspects of The Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Extension Act of 2010 and is in the process of completing other rulemakings required by that law. Now, more than one year after that bill was signed into law and nearly three years after the crash, it is important that we review and reexamine the causes of the accident and the ensuing safety reforms to make sure we are truly moving towards one level of safety for the entire aviation industry. In addition to examining the efficacy of reforms required by the bill, I ask that you look at other issues affecting aviation safety that were not addressed in the legislation. In recent days, we learned that Colgan Airlines did not share emails with the National Transportation Safety Board related to the lead pilot’s fitness to fly the type of plane involved in the crash. In light of this revelation, I believe it is sensible to also review the investigation process to determine if that process can be improved or the NTSB needed additional authorities to carry out their work.

Thank you for your attention to this important request. I know you share my concern for aviation safety and I look forward to continuing to work with you to promote safe air travel.

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Representatives Brian Higgins (NY-27), Louise Slaughter (NY-28) and Kathy Hochul (NY-26) sent letters to both the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and Colgan Airlines demanding to know why emails sent by Colgan Air, related to the qualifications of the pilot who crashed Continental Flight 3407, were not presented during the initial crash investigation.

The Members of the Western New York delegation wrote to Colgan Air and its parent company, Pinnacle Airlines, asking why their emails were never disclosed to the NTSB and are seeking further information on what criteria the airline used to determine what to disclose. In a separate letter to NTSB, Higgins, Slaughter and Hochul asked the board to explain the "party" process generally used to investigate crashes, how the Colgan investigation could have benefitted from these emails, and whether they would have led to NTSB providing additional recommendations.

“There is no question that these are emails should have been disclosed to the NTSB,” said Congressman Higgins. “We’d like to know why they weren’t, and how failure to do so may be impacting flight training and safety policy recommendations stemming from the Flight 3407 investigation.”

“These newly released emails raise a haunting question: what else haven’t we seen?” said Congresswoman Slaughter. “We must make sure that for future investigations, the NTSB has every tool they need to ensure all relevant information is shared.”

“I have no doubt that this investigation must be reopened,” said Congresswoman Hochul. “We’ve heard one thing in hearings, but these newly released emails, in my judgment, point to a cover-up. We need to get to the bottom of this. My constituents, the Flight 3407 families, and the flying public deserve no less.”

Below are copies of the letters sent by Reps. Higgins, Slaughter & Hochul:

The Honorable Deborah A.P. Hersman
Chairman
National Transportation Safety Board

490 L'Enfant Plaza, SW
Washington, DC 20594

Dear Chairman Hersman:

We write to express our strong concern regarding recently released correspondence between Colgan Air senior safety officials that questioned the ability of the Captain of Continental Connection Flight 3407 to operate the Bombardier Dash 8-Q400, the model of the plane that crashed February 12, 2009 in Clarence Center, New York.

This is especially troubling in light of your agency’s laudable investigation, which determined pilot error to be a key cause of the Flight 3407 crash. Your public hearing held in May 2009 and the final report issued in February 2010 provided numerous critical safety recommendations that ultimately served as the framework for P.L. 111-216, 'The Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Act of 2010'. Your efforts served to highlight important issues such as pilot training and fatigue, the use of safety management systems such as FOQA and ASAP by regional airlines, and the process of screening and selecting pilots for employment.

It is our understanding that this internal Colgan correspondence was not provided to National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigators as part of the pilot-in-command's personnel file during the Flight 3407 investigation. While we understand that the safety board investigates thousands of accidents and incidents per year with limited resources, and commend NTSB for completing the investigation on this watershed accident in such a timely and thorough manner, we are concerned that all relevant documentation should have been provided to the NTSB by the designated parties at the time of the investigation.

To that end, we would like to request that you explain the "party" system the NTSB uses to investigate crashes generally, how the Colgan investigation could have benefitted from these emails, whether they would have led to NTSB providing additional safety recommendations regarding the screening and selection of pilots for upgrade, and what NTSB’s mode of recourse is if a party doesn’t disclose pertinent information during the investigation.

Thank you again for the important work that you do to improve transportation safety and for your consideration of this request.

October 25, 2011

Mr. Sean Menke
Mr. George Casey

President and C.E.O.
President and G.M.

Pinnacle Airlines, Inc.
Colgan Air, Inc.

1689 Nonconnah Blvd.
Paragon Drive
Suite 111
Memphis, TN 38132

Dear Mr. Menke and Mr. Casey:

We write to express our strong concern regarding recently released correspondence between Colgan Air senior safety officials that questioned the ability of the Captain of Continental Connection Flight 3407 to operate the Bombardier Dash 8-Q400, the model of the plane that crashed February 12, 2009 outside of Clarence Center, NY.

We understand that your airline was designated as a party to the National Transportation Safety Board's (NTSB) investigation process. As you know, the facts and information provided during the investigation becomes the basis for NTSB’s accident report and ultimate findings of the probable and contributing causes and safety recommendations. It is the responsibility of each participating party in the investigative process to provide all documentation that yields evidence to that end.

It is our understanding that the correspondence in question was not provided to National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigators during the Flight 3407 investigation. In light of this, we request that you explain your participation in the NTSB investigative process, what criteria you used to determine what information to disclose to the NTSB during the investigation, and why these emails were not included in this disclosure. Furthermore, we request that you provide us with information on your company's screening and selection process for pilots to be upgraded; as the emails expressed significant concern for Captain Renslow’s readiness to upgrade, and yet he was allowed to transition to the Q400 a month later.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter and we look forward to your response.

Colgan / Pinnacle Air issued this response Wednesday:

Statement from Colgan Air

Colgan Air disputes allegations that the company withheld from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) information contained in an internal email exchange regarding the training for Captain Marvin Renslow.

The email exchange in question references a failed check ride Renslow had a year prior while upgrading from Saab 340 First Officer to Saab 340 Captain. Following that event and prior to his request to transition to the Q400 aircraft, Renslow underwent additional training, successfully upgraded to Saab Captain and received his FAA type rating from an FAA-designated examiner. As a Saab captain, he had three successful checking events. He was qualified to begin his transition training into the Q400 aircraft, but the email exchange shows Colgan’s chief pilot required Renslow to pass his next scheduled check flight before being allowed to begin transition training into the Q400.

Renslow then successfully completed Colgan’s FAA-approved Q400 training program, was issued a Q400 type rating by an FAA-designated examiner, and successfully completed transition operating experience in the Q400 with a Colgan Q400 check airman, all without any training deficiencies or problems noted. He accumulated more than 100 flight hours as pilot in command of the Q400 aircraft prior to the accident.

While this specific email exchange was not included in the NTSB investigation, the information it references, including Renslow’s earlier failed Saab 340 upgrade check in 2007, was in fact shared with NTSB investigators prior to and during testimony. Additionally, the NTSB was aware of the additional proficiency check as his training record was part of the NTSB evidence and that record clearly shows the additional check. To suggest otherwise is patently false and represents a clear attempt by plaintiffs’ attorneys to try their cases against the company in the media.

The NTSB’s own findings concerning the accident said Captain Renslow was properly trained, certified and qualified under all applicable federal aviation regulations to act as Pilot-In-Command of a Q400 aircraft. He was Airline Transport Pilot rated, which is the highest level of certification available.

We remain confident in our full compliance with FAA regulations governing our training processes, then and now.