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Questions About Pilot's Fatigue And Qualifications At Hearings On Upstate New York Plane Crash

At hearings investigating the upstate New York plane crash that killed 51 people this February, after it became clear that pilot error almost surely caused the accident, Colgan Air executives were questioned on their hiring practices, pay scales, and their pilots’ commutes, The New York Times reports.

The National Transportation Safety Board hearings, which continue today, encountered many of the same issues that frequently draw the ire of New York personal injury lawyers: responsible jobs held by questionably qualified individuals, difficult working conditions and extremely low wages.

Nearly every detail of the situation is shocking. For instance, Marvin D. Renslow, the captain of the doomed flight, lied about how many times he failed a hands-on proficiency exam on his job application; he told Colgan he had failed once – he had flunked the test three times. Colgain Air had the right to request that Mr. Renslow provide authorization to view his FAA records, an action it did not take.

Then, during his employment at Colgan Air, Captain Renslow failed two more proficiency exams before he was certified to fly the Dash 8, the aircraft he went on to crash.

But perhaps these failures can be attributed to fatigue. After all, Captain Renslow commuted regularly between his Florida home and the Newark airport where he worked. With no residence near the airport, Captain Renslow often slept in the crew lounge. This practice, which rarely led to a good night’s sleep, was prohibited by Colgan Air, though management never took serious action to stop it.

Surely, on a pilot’s salary, couldn’t Captain Renslow afford at least a humble residence near the airport? Unfortunately small, regional carriers like Colgan Air don’t pay pilots anything close to what the larger airlines pay. According to ETN , a travel industry news service, while larger airlines pay their pilots about $125,000 a year, smaller carriers like Colgan only pay about $50,000 a year.

Even worse off was Captain Renslow’s co-pilot, Rebecca Shaw. Living near Seattle, Shaw was faced with an even longer commute than Captain Renslow, was paid only $16,200 a year and was forced to take a second job serving coffee to make ends meet.

Airline pilots hold one of the most responsible jobs in the country. It is a career that requires intense concentration, rare skills and an extremely flexible schedule. The public has a strong interest in ensuring that pilots are qualified, healthy and well-rested before they’re allowed on a flight deck. Yet the conditions revealed at the NTSB’s hearings obviously run against this interest.

Any New York personal injury attorney will tell you it is ill-advised to create a situation wherein a questionably-qualified, sleepy person is put in charge of complicated equipment with the capacity to injure or kill dozens or hundreds of people. Colgain Air, and other small carriers like it, must reconsider their practices before another tragedy occurs.


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