COMMERCIAL AVIATION’S BLIGHT-REGIONAL CARRIERS
Once again, a regional airline has embarrassed the aviation community. A Saab 340 aircraft operated by Silver Airways landed at the wrong airport in West Virginia. Silver Airways flight # 4049 was en route to the North Central West Virginia airport but landed at to the Fairmont Municipal-Frankman Field airport by mistake. The two airports are only 5 miles apart so it was an easy mistake to make, particularly at the dastardly hour of midnight. Did pilot fatigue play a role in this accident? Very possibly!
The company spokesman referred to the incident as a diversion—a nice euphemism for chaos in the cockpit— resulting in the most embarrassing situation a pilot can encounter. An additional element of this incident is the local area folks were all excited about their new air service that Silver Airways was providing as a feeder airline for United Airlines. While no one was hurt in this incident it did validate the widely understood premise that when you climb aboard that regional airline, even though it might have the markings of a major airline, it is operated by a subcontractor, which is quite frequently underfunded and under staffed, often with inexperienced people.
Silver Airways is an offshoot of Gulfstream International, a Fort Lauderdale-based airline that recently closed its doors. Another regional airline icon, Comair finally shut its doors. Comair was a very large commuter operation that serviced the Delta Airline passengers to the smaller airports in the South East U.S. A sad chapter to their legacy is that they were notorious for exploiting their pilots. They offered inexperienced pilots the opportunity to pay a sum in the vicinity of $25,000 to get trained in one of their airplanes that was used to carry passengers on their “milk-runs.” After completion of training the pilot was then offered a job with the airline at a pay scale that was well below the poverty level. For further elucidation on this policy, please see Peter Buffington’s book, Squawk 7700; this book is a scathing expose’ of the regional carriers.
If the safety quotient when travelling on the major airlines is a 9.7 out of 10, it might well shrink to a 1.7 when you travel on the commuter aircraft. The last 6 fatal airline crashes on domestic U.S. flights has been on regional carriers. I have several ex-airline colleagues that will drive five hours rather than travel on a regional airline. PBS Frontline has produced a brilliant expose’ of the commuter/regional airline situation. This program, hosted by Miles O’Brien, was a follow-up to the Continental Flight 3407 (Colgan Air) crash in Buffalo, New York. It is accessible by going to PBS.ORG. The regional air carrier phenomenon in the U.S. remains as a festering sore for the aviation community despite the many hard-working professionals that toil in the onerous work conditions that they must endure.
This blog is prepared by Allen Morris/aka Ace Abbott, author of The Rogue Aviator: in the back alleys of aviation and Dead Tired: Pilot Fatigue-Aviation’s Insidious Killer.