We have written in previous issues about the tragic crash of a commuter airplane in Buffalo, New York, that resulted in 49 people being killed. The New York Times, in a recent article, disclosed that a federal inspector predicted danger long before the crash. The Times reported that, more than a year before the twin-engine turboprop flown by Colgan Air crashed on approach to Buffalo, a Federal Aviation Administration inspector complained to his superiors about problems the airline was having with that model plane. According to the Times, the inspector, Christopher J. Monteleon, was actually in the cockpit when the airline got its first such plane, a Bombardier Dash 8 Q400, and put it through a series of test flights.
The Times article reveals that Colgan was aware that its pilots had experienced difficulties with this airplane. Monteleon told the Times that when he reported problems to his FAA superiors, “he was suspended from important portions of his job overseeing Colgan’s acquisition of the Dash 8 and given a desk job.” His complaints about Colgan, which, according to the Times, were repeated three months later to the Office of Special Counsel, a federal agency established to hear whistle-blower complaints, foreshadowed some of the issues that emerged 13 months later at the National Transportation Safety Board hearings on the crash near Buffalo. Monteleon said that Colgan crews were flying fatigued, and were not fully focused on the tasks in front of them. These are two factors that are allegedly being looked into in the Buffalo crash. All 49 people on board the flight, which took off from Newark, were killed, along with one man on the ground.
While the safety board usually takes about a year to issue a final report on crashes like the one in Buffalo, its hearings in May made it clear that the quality of the FAA’s regulation of Colgan was one of the areas under investigation. The FAA, through a spokeswoman, told the Times that “after Monteleon made his allegations, the agency called in a team made up of inspectors from around the country, who could review the issues with an impartial eye.” Apparently, some changes in FAA procedures were recommended and carried out. But the FAA told the Times it didn’t find any “major regulatory issues.” That appears to be in conflict with the claims by Monteleon relating to safety concerns.
The Office of Special Counsel doesn’t settle safety issues, but sends them on to the inspector general of the department in question if it finds a “substantial likelihood” that they are at least partly accurate. The Office did send Monteleon’s complaints to the inspector general of the Department of Transportation (the parent agency of the FAA), but the inspector general’s office hasn’t completed its investigation.
It should be noted that the claims by Monteleon, a 40-year veteran of the aviation industry who joined the FAA in 1997, rely mostly on documents he himself wrote when the events occurred, and on his memory. But apparently, there have been other inspectors who were penalized by their supervisors who overruled them in favor of the airline. The Times reports that in 2008, two FAA inspectors assigned to Southwest Airlines testified before Congress that their managers let Southwest fly its Boeing 737s without inspections for cracks that the safety agency required.
Office managers referred to the airline as the regulatory agency’s “customer.” Top FAA officials eventually conceded that the inspectors were right and the middle managers were wrong. It should be undisputed that FAA inspections are critically important to safety in the airline industry. If the agency isn’t paying attention to reports from their own inspectors, it appears there is a serious problem. Either the supervisors are too cozy with the airlines or the inspectors are not good at their job, according to the Times. In any event, neither is acceptable!
Source: New York Times
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