Flying Cheap (full documentary) | FRONTLINE
[Music] last week the government presented its final report on the buffalo crash of continental 3407 the deadliest u.s air accident in eight years is the watershed accident it's become the symbol of everything that's wrong with the industry the investigation focused on a major transformation in the airline industry today's regional airlines are really the backbone of the domestic network system tonight on front line correspondent miles o'brien journeys into the world of the regional airlines the major airlines created the regional industry as a way of lowering cost investigating the financial pressures if we didn't move those airplanes they didn't make any money examining the experience of the pilots boy in nine months you were a captain yeah that's that's quick almost scary isn't it and asking what government regulators knew it was horrifying i think anyone who've read that file would have had the same questions that i had tonight frontline investigates how corners were cut on safety i knew that this company was not playing by the rules and something bad is going to happen are the risks of flying cheaper [Music] [Music] it was february 12 2009. inside air traffic control at buffalo international everything was running smoothly continental flight 3407 was on final approach from newark called it 3407 buffalo delta 1998 turn left left hitting 360.
then at 10 16 controllers suddenly lost contact with the crew delta 1998 look off your right side about five miles they scrambled to locate the plane to talk to somebody at least northeast uh either state police or sheriff's department need to find if anything is on the ground it's just a blackened and charred wreckage had the tv on but all of a sudden a bulletin came on and they said there's a plane crash all of a sudden they announced it was a commuter flight from newark a commercial airline and i screamed i just screamed and i looked at my watch and it was past the time she was supposed to land and my husband sat up in bed and i said i think beverly's on that planet karen's sister beverly eckert was an insurance executive she had lost her husband in the attack on the world trade center and had become a leader among the 9 11 families all units that they've seen of the plane crash and house fire switch to channel two all units to channel two and see when the smoke clears we drove out to the crash site it seemed like it took forever about that time of the uh uh where the fire state trooper policeman in charge on the scene came on the radio and just said that you know this continental plane had crashed into a house on long street and then at this time it appeared there were no survivors so at that you know at that point you're pretty much you know it was real kevin kuick's girlfriend lauren maurer was a passenger on flight 3407. the phone rings and it's kevin and he just just said you know scott i got bad news and he just broke it to us he says you know lauren was on this plane and and it went down and there are no survivors the crash killed 49 on board and one on the ground over the next several days investigators from the national transportation safety board or ntsb scoured the site and briefed family members on their findings i could sense in the briefing a certain amount of anger you know they were looking at icing they were looking at a lot of things but there was like a buzz in the room of all the families we're all grief-stricken and we're listening and i got the sense that something wasn't right i think we were getting some signs that there was a bigger story here than than just i don't want to see just a crash but a plane crash it wasn't a mechanical defect as a pilot myself and having reported on aviation for more than 20 years i knew that accidents most always involve a chain of events a series of underlying causes i also knew that the downing of 3407 would focus attention on a growing sector of the airline industry it turned out this continental flight was operated not by continental itself but by a smaller carrier called colgan air he had sent me her uh her itinerary you know and you pull it up from orbits and you know continental every everything on it was continental and small print under the flight number was operated by colgan no doubt in our mind that when she's buying this ticket she's buying a flight on continental for which she believes she had continental pilots and continental safety and continental service today we are opening a public hearing concerning the accident that occurred on february 12 2009 at clarence center new york three months after the crash the ntsb held preliminary hearings on its investigation of 3407. at the start they played a video depicting the last two minutes of flight today that in our audience sitting there the very tough part was watching the video the the recreation of the flight what i realized on that flight is the quiet part of the flight you're descending you're right you're approaching and they're five miles out of buffalo it's a quiet time and all of a sudden that plane and they showed that pitch and roll and you count if you count how many seconds that absolute terror must have been in those it was horrible it was horrible during the hearings the evidence suggested the cause of the crash was not icing but rather pilot error so in your expert opinion what did this crew do correctly and what did they do wrong obviously the the initial reaction to the star warning was incorrect do you believe this was a recoverable stall my opinion is yes here's what the black boxes told investigators in a nutshell the airplane was on final approach to buffalo the landing gear came down and it started losing speed very quickly very soon a warning system came on a wheel shaker to tell the pilot that the plane was going too slowly to fly he's supposed to push on that wheel when that happens instead he pulled back the speed got even slower and then another system kicked in a pusher which the plane tries to push the nose over itself to gain air speed instead the captain pulled back and then the first officer put the flaps up and that made matters worse the plane stalled spun and crashed into the ground the ntsb investigated the professional backgrounds of the pilots the captain marvin renslow was 47. he was hired by colgan in 2005 with only 618 hours of flying time less than half the time required by most major airlines the ntsb found that captain renslow had failed five performance tests or check rides some of which colgan had failed to discover the first officer rebecca shaw 24 joined colgan in january 2008 she made less than sixteen thousand dollars in her first year at colgan and spent the night before the crash commuting from her home in seattle she commuted from seattle to memphis stayed in a crew lounge in memphis from midnight to 4 am commuted from memphis to new york from 4 to 6 30 and then hung out in the crew lounge in newark until her 1 30 showtime the transcripts of the cockpit voice recorder provided clues about other problems the first officer seemed under the weather and concerned about the cost of calling in sick if i call in sick she said now i've got to put myself in a hotel until i feel better [Music] and both pilots appeared tired the transcript note sounds similar to yawns we are going to find out what happened here the investigation threw a spotlight onto the operations of colgan and raised questions about pilot qualifications training and pay the story that emerged shocked family members and even industry insiders will prevent it from happening there's some accidents that really make you step back and take a look at what's happening in the system 3407 forces to look at issues like commuting fatigue it forces us to look at training it forces us to look at fundamental regulatory relationships absolutely it's a very important important event it's become the symbol of everything that's wrong with the industry the term watershed comes out frequently is this a watershed accident i think it is i think it is certainly for this decade it is the watershed accident the story of flight 3407 really begins in manassas virginia at a regional airport about 30 miles west of washington dc where i found the roots of colgan air the company's rapid rise as a regional carrier is a story of how the airline industry has changed over the past 30 years colgan got its start here in 1965. hey tom how are you welcome good to see you manassas the colgan family operated a fixed base operation in manassas virginia and out of that grew an air taxi operation where it is that colgan would contract with with x company to fly from a to b charter kind of thing charter kind of thing chuck colgan is a former air force pilot who built his charter company by first flying ibm executives between washington and the company's main plant in poughkeepsie then cogan got a big break when in the late 70s the government deregulated the airline industry deregulation brought increased competition and lower airfares it also brought a new operating model called the hub and spoke the major airlines created central hubs in big cities and turned to small regionals or commuters to feed their network so they created these mechanisms where okay we'll buy uh you know 50-seat airplanes for you you'll set up or expand an existing company and we'll make it look like that it's actually our airline you buy the ticket from us but you know you're really flying on this other carrier the new model of contract flying was called a code share the regional airline carried the same ticketing code and colors as the major and under most contracts the regionals were paid a set profit on each flight they completed regardless of how many passengers they carried so there's a margin there of of profit but if you can hold down pilot costs if you can hold down flight attendant cost maintenance cost those carriers make even more money the new business model got a big boost in the 90s with the introduction of smaller jet aircraft that allowed the regionals to carry more passengers to farther destinations and that was good for consumers who benefit from what the industry's chief spokesman calls seamless travel the real secret and why people haven't realized that there has been this transition is that the passenger buys one ticket doesn't have to check his bag on two or three different airlines puts it through gets on an aircraft that is modern looks the exact same way the seat magazine it says continental so that is a seamless experience for the traveling public how are you doing today a little bit the new co-chair contracts were part of a seismic shift in the competitive structure of the industry that took hold in the late 90s discount carriers like southwest were grabbing more and more market share putting increasing price pressure on the major airlines forcing many into bankruptcy the low-cost carriers were in full wing at this point growing growing aggressively that clearly you know helped to compress fares and i think the most probably the most important thing fares were now available on the internet now i could go on the internet and shop for the lowest fare the chase for cheaper airfares put tremendous pressure on mainline carriers like continental airlines gordon bethune had brought continental back from the brink of bankruptcy in the mid 90s winning is defined in our business is beating your competition just like a horse race you don't have to be the fastest horse on the planet just beat these other horses that's what makes this business exciting while you and i are having this conversation let's say we're an airline business our competitors would be screwing us they would be changing a flight of one of 1800 at a time a day or a fair or something never stops never never stops like other major airlines through the 80s and 90s continental had built up its own regional airline continental express but to stay competitive bethune sold off continental express and began outsourcing more and more flying to independent airlines what was the whole thought process in putting this this type of flying on to another company it's a different kind of business it's regional jet flying in in small airplanes aren't big airplanes and the different employees different labor standards different wage rates right still airplanes transportation moving passengers safely how how is the distance traveled and the size of the airplane make it a different business in your perspective they're all flying airplanes but they're not flying the kind of airplanes you are with the same kind of standards that you're applying and so you can you let that operate as it's an independent business because other people are in that business but you can't afford to have a lot of excess costs and still win a contract so it makes the management be cost effective the major airlines created the regional industry as a way of lowering cost they don't want to pay employees and i don't care whether it's pilots flight attendants mechanics ground help they wanted to find a way of getting rid of experience they wanted to find a way of getting rid of that expensive employee and let's start this new industry and call it the regional industry today more than half the commercial flights in the united states are flown by regional airlines the industry really restructured itself fundamentally and there was decisions made about what services should be in sourced to the main like areas and what were most efficient to be outsourced and uh we ended up with a different structured industry than people have probably anywhere else in the world where these regional carriers are vitally important regional carriers were growing rapidly by 2005 colgan had successfully bid and won flying contracts with continental u.s air and united airlines serving
regional markets across the northeast and throughout texas in just four years colgan had more than doubled in size it's a lot of growth to manage though isn't it a lot of growth for kogan to manage this has been a lot of growth for the regional sector to manage from flying a small portion of overall flying to operating 52 percent of the departures today you know this has been a a huge transition for the regional sector even before the crash of 3407 there were growing safety concerns about the regional airlines since 2002 the last six fatal commercial airline accidents in the u.s have all involved regionals in four of the accidents the ntsb cited pilot error as a cause the investigation of 3407 opened a window into the lives of regional pilots where the work is hard and the days are long says former colgan pilot chris wyken it's challenging it's very challenging a lot of short routes a lot of takeoffs a lot of landings and going in and out of bad weather being down low especially at colgan flying the turbo props they you're not flying above the weather you're flying in the weather you know eight nine ten flights a day it gets to be a very long day while faa regulations limit pilots to eight hours of actual flight time a day pilots may be on duty for up to 16 hours a day but that doesn't mean a big paycheck we are only paid when the door is closed and the engines are running as soon as we block out of the gate we close that door that's when we start all the time we're walking through airports eating lunch reading a book while we wait for airplanes standing at the gate you know we're not paid for that time we may be on duty for 80 hours a week and get paid for 20 of it if we're lucky pilots are paid hourly and starting pay for first officers is typically 21 dollars an hour my first year was i made a little over 22 000 gross and then you put into the fact that you have you know mortgages and rent for crash pad student loan payments car insurance and whatnot you know by the time it all got said and done we were literally starving at the end of the day to make ends meet many pilots choose to commute living in less expensive communities far from the base they fly from commuting has always been a part of aviation but if you're making 16 or 18 000 a year and you're commuting you're sleeping on the barco lounger in the pilots lounge and that's not good is it let's get the facts out on on the table on this mile the average salary for a regional airline captain is 73 000 the average salary for a first officer at a regional airline it's about 32 33 000 a year so i'm not talking about average there are some people as you well know who make 18 to 20 000 years you know we're not talking about average we're talking about human beings who are flying my grandmother to buffalo right okay so there are people there living this life and it seems as if they're in an untenable position economically absolutely not because there are many other people who who um who learn earn less money than that who work more days in in these communities that can afford it and do do it and do it responsibly i just checked the the web this morning you can get a hotel room at the newark airport for fifty dollars a night fifty dollars a night if you're making twenty thousand dollars a year that adds up doesn't it adds up very quickly if you have a base salary roughly hundred dollars a month is what you take home fifty dollars uh fifty dollars a night for a hotel is gonna disappear relatively fast and of course i don't know if you've ever tried to find a hotel at that rate near newark but it's most likely not gonna be in the uh safest of neighborhoods low pay and high living costs have created an underground housing market in the airline industry they're called crash pads some regional pilots let us inside their crash pads in a northeastern city if we agreed not to reveal their location [Music] you can picture a one and two bedroom apartment with 8 10 12 14 guys in it on you know roll out mattresses and sleeping on the floor sleeping on the couch sleeping in bunk beds air mattresses waiting in line for the shower well i had a crashpad in albany new york we had nine people living in a small two-bedroom apartment we had guys living on sleeping on the couch they rented the couch guys would run out of closet a big walk-in closet and then you'd have three or four guys crammed in a little bitty 10 by 10 room hardly bigger than jail cells it seemed like sleeping on air mattresses we couldn't afford to rent our own apartment we just did not make enough money to be able to pay for that the lives of regional pilots may not be glamorous but they offer young pilots a fast track to the captain's seat at the major airlines it takes pilots five to ten years to upgrade from first officer to captain but not at the regionals at colgan i upgraded very quickly within my first year i upgraded about nine months if i remember right boy in nine months you were a captain yeah that's that's quick almost scary isn't it so that's a that's not a deep reservoir of experience in the cockpit yeah there's not a very deep well to draw from in terms of experience and knowledge absolutely true one of the first first officers that flew with me when i became captain was actually a guy that i was in ground school with in my initial new hire class wow so i had 500 and some hours he had 400 and was soon gonna upgrade in that airplane a couple of relatively new guys new guys yeah we had just we were brand new to the airline game nine months in nine months in i don't think passengers know this do they i'm sure they have absolutely no clue i'm sure they have absolutely no idea just one month before the crash of continental 3407 it was a very experienced crew that brought 150 passengers to safety on the hudson river sully was exactly what we all want to see in the airline pilot he's a teacher he's a proficient pilot he you know is a master manager and he also happened to have a very skilled person sitting in the right seat with him that mentoring process is is where a lot of younger pilots gain experience that's how they learn in the regional industry you don't see that today it wasn't like you were seeing continental czech airmen or senior pilots coming around saying hey let me sit down with you and talk to you about how to you know fly in these conditions no because that's you know that's continental that's their pilots that's their pilot group and then we have colgan there's a clear distinction it's split there so as long as you show up when you're supposed to show up for continental they didn't get in your business continental as far as my knowledge never had any involvement with colgan i mean they they signed the contract and said you will fly these these routes and colgan was responsible for crew training and everything else continental's relationship with colgan was primarily business colgan was paid for each flight and their pay depended on completion of the flight and they get paid based on completion factor in some contracts which raises a a quest a disturbing question because if if you have a cancellation or you deviate due to weather are they actually going to get paid for flying are we incentifying regional carriers to actually complete segments uh when it may not be safe to do so when the safest thing may be to cancel that flight or divert to a different airport doesn't that create an incentive which is contrary to safety in other words you get your money if you get that plane from newark to buffalo safety is the number one priority and there is no airline no matter what the business arrangement that would ever operate any aircraft at any time and and risk the safety of the passengers and crew so it it's totally unrelated to any type of business arrangement they said safety was a priority a lot um in my experience however um on a day-to-day basis um being on time and and completing the the flight was much more important much more important what happened if you were tired or sick or both sick and tired and you called in and said i can't do this trip what happened then i was actually one of them that claimed fatigue at one point um i had a number of 16-hour duty days in a row full 16-hour full 16-hour days right and and i swear to god that this is true our vice president of operations got on the phone with me and said well you know are are you you're going to be stuck in a hyannis port you're going to be stuck in hyannis for the night if if you claim fatigue right now wouldn't you like to get home we can you know shorten your duty day for you instead of saying you showed up at 5 40 this morning we can say you showed up at six and that will give you that extra 20 minutes to take that flight back to albany so to be clear he was offering to falsify the records so that you would appear to have flown a legal fa sanction day you didn't or weren't correct the saying around the companies always moved the rig and that just kind of told me that they were willing to kind of push the bounds why were they pushing because if we didn't move those airplanes they didn't make any money last august the relationship between the major carriers and their regional partners was explored at a hearing in the u.s senate several airlines were asked to testify including continental and pinnacle air the company that bought colgan in 2007. we're going to call this hearing to order other senators probe the extent to which major carriers like continental take responsibility for the safety operations of their regional partners and i believe captain gunther you stated that you didn't believe that network carriers should serve as a safety check for the operations and performance of the regional carriers i think the position is that's the faa's job uh chairman you're correct yeah we firmly believe that the faa sets the standard industry-wide one reason some majors don't want to take responsibility for the safety of their regional partners is because they don't want to assume the legal liability says plaintiff's lawyer mary skiavo what about liability though when you set up a when you set up a contract like this and something bad happens like happens in buffalo who's liable what people think is because in the case of the buffalo crash because continentals painted on the door of the plane they think that continental is responsible in fact their contracts with their code share carriers say that the code share carrier the the contracting carrier the colgan of the world is absolutely completely and totally responsible for the safety of the operation of that flight and by the way if something goes wrong with that flight colgan has to indemnify or in the past defend protect save and hold harmless that's right the u.s airways co-chair
agreement with uh colgan um they're pretty much all like that so they're they're they go off the hook actually yes they go off holds up in court yes if we had a bipartisan bill that basically said from a safety standpoint from a liability of the major carrier that there would be joint and several liability for any negligence that occurs by the regional so that they'd both be responsible when it comes to safety purposes would you folks support that senator that that's beyond my purview get back to me on that that's a very important question mr gunther same thing sir we'll senator we'll get back to you on that okay the committee says it has not heard back from the airlines we wanted to ask both continental and colgan about their contracts and their relationship but neither would grant an interview in the case of continental the company has made it very clear that they're not involved in how that airline does its business when it comes specifically to the issue of safety they don't get in their hair they say it's up to the faa the the most important point here about about safety in this industry is that there can only be one regulator because you couldn't have various carriers overseeing with different standards different rules for any type of aviation whether it's general aviation commercial aviation all flying can only have one regulator and that's why we have such a safe system that we have today relying on the faa to ensure that all carriers fly safely has its limits the faa has less than 4 000 inspectors responsible for overseeing the safety of about 25 000 commercial flights in the u.s every day the crash of 3407 has raised a new questions about how well the faa is doing its job questions that had previously surfaced in the mid 90s with the rapid rise of a low-cost airline called value jet [Music] as value jack grew so did its safety troubles yet the faa failed to heed warnings about repeated problems mary schiavo was the inspector general of the department of transportation at the time instead of hitting them with with violations they were propping them up my office said whoa wait a minute this doesn't pass the smell test when you've got an airline having as many problems the faa isn't doing proper oversight hopes you're fading now of finding any survivors from the crash of a value jet dc then in 1996 value jet flight 592 from miami caught fire and crashed into the everglades reportedly the faa says there were 109 people on board the secretary of transportation and the head of the faa went into protective overdrive the secretary of transportation flew down to miami and stood in the everglades literally on the watery grave of 110 people and said value jet is a safe airline and i want to emphasize that i have flown value jet value jet is a safe airline as is our entire aviation system i was very angry because they knew that that airline was troubled why because i'd been called into the secretary of transportation's office um the the faa administrator knew we were down there looking we had presented some of our findings already were they lying to the public i think so why because the faa protects airlines the faa's response to value jet exposed an inherent conflict in the agency's original mandate the federal aviation act of 1958 gave the fa two primary missions one safety two promote aviation in no particular order after the value jet crash congress under public pressure remove promotion from the faa mandate but a closer look at the legislation tells a different story there's a footnote in that legislation before congress and the footnote says although we're changing the terminology from promote to encourage we do not intend to change the way we do business this is a change for the public consumption and we're not changing how we work at the faa it was simply a sleight of hand nick sabattini worked inside the faa for 30 years and was the head of aviation safety from two thousand one through two thousand eight i never did see that there was a conflict i could easily compartmentalize if i'm encouraging you to do better i'm not encourage you encouraging you to necessarily grow your business in terms of promoting aviation the promotion was promoting aviation safety as we saw under sabatini the faa forged a new regulatory approach with the industry called partnership programs the faa relied more on the airlines to self-report problems and help identify emerging safety risks we need to learn what those unknown risks are out there who is best positioned to know what risks they see every day it's people who are operating the system and have their hands on the system every single day but critics say the faa's collaborative approach went too far a policy directive in 2003 called the customer service initiative identified the airlines as the faa's customers and encouraged the industry to challenge the decisions of faa inspectors the problem though with the customer service initiative the way it was pushed the way it was implemented the way it was communicated to the workforce sent the wrong message sent a very bad message to the industry it sent the message that look i can cut a deal and all you had to do is make a phone call to you know somebody that you became friends with over the years and request reconsideration and it would be taken care of both the faa and industry say their success working together is borne out by statistics that flying today is safer than ever prior to the crash of 3407 it had been two and a half years since the last fatal commercial airline accident in the u.s in those intervening years the united states air transportation system transported two billion people maybe a little bit more that is the equivalent of having transported the population of the united states more than six times without putting a scratch on anybody but in the airline industry there's a common expression that the absence of accidents doesn't necessarily mean you're safe when people say that what do they mean what you really have to look at are the thousands of things that lead up to the accident in the first place human beings will make a lot of little mistakes that serve as a warning before a big mistake occurs and a big consequence so what it means to really be safe is to be focused on those little warning signs and catching them early it's only when we miss a bunch of those warning signs that we have a tragedy the question in the wake of 3407 is whether the faa missed warning signs about safety problems at colgan air [Music] as early as 1998 hogan's problems were evident when the company began to grow as a regional airline hogan was supposed to upgrade its operations to meet the same level of safety as the major airlines but in a letter from colgan to the faa obtained by frontline the company acknowledged it had to make significant improvements in order to meet the more stringent safety standards known as part 121 regulations the company committed to making substantial changes in pilot training record keeping management maintenance and safety audit systems the letter was signed by company founder chuck colgan but seven years later in 2005 colgan was still not meeting its regulatory requirements says chris monteleone who was a lead faa inspector overseeing colgan's growing operations there were not enough managers there were not enough czech airmen there were not enough maintenance personnel were they just overwhelmed they were acting as if they were overwhelmed they couldn't control their business the safety part of their business monte leone says he took his concerns about colgan to his office manager at the faa recommending enforcement actions against the company but his manager he says was getting pushback from company president mike hogan mike gogan would call or in some cases got to the point where he wrote about me to the office manager and the office manager one time told my team he said mike colgan is a friend of this office and that was the message i mean it was like well we already knew it but he felt the need to reinforce it did you in the course of that feel pressure not to stop that growth in other words absolutely were you seen as a roadblock oh absolutely the faa office manager says he does not recall making those statements but three years later there were still problems when colgan got another big contract from continental colgan began flying a new airplane called the q-400 the type of plane that would crash in buffalo did you get the sense that everybody was a bit overwhelmed by this airplane yes because there was a lot of growth um it was almost the same thing that was faced with the 2005 expansion with this 2008 expansion of the queues there was a lot of growth a lot of growing pains suffered by the company as well as the crews because it was it was new to all of us none of us had ever operated this airplane before in february 2008 kogan began flying passengers on the q 400 but the faa was soon concerned that colgan pilots were having trouble flying the airplane there were reports that pilots were exercising poor judgment and colgan was short on czech airmen or supervisory pilots for its q 400 fleet so i guess were you a little surprised when they came to you and said we want you to fly and supervise this crew very surprised why was that because i'm not type rated in the aircraft i'm not qualified in the aircraft i had never flown the aircraft and i didn't even know what the limitations of the aircraft were let alone it was very unclear as to exactly what we were supposed to be doing so did you have the sense that just wanted a warm body in that seat yes there were other warnings about the safety culture at colgan in 2008. in this ntsb file we found a case that alarmed the faa it involved the actions of a colgan captain on a flight out of new york city the first officer on the flight was ben coates it was coach's job to calculate the weight limit on the flight and his calculations showed the plane would be too heavy to fly and you say to the captain captain were even more of a way than we thought what do you say well he said well why don't we just count three of those uh adults as children really yeah just mark them down on the sheet as children and and that'll put us under weight that's what he suggested coats says he refused and the captain took the weight manifest from him only after landing did coats discover what had happened with the manifest so when you looked at the paperwork which had all the information on the weights and balances for the plane what did you see well i saw it had been altered my uh my math had been altered it had been changed so that our plan would no longer be overweight he made the limit higher because that plane would fit yes and what you ended up with was a very heavy aircraft yes a very hard to hard to fly hard to climb at least airplane unsafe illegal airplane yes dangerous yes very dangerous actually very dangerous coats felt it was so dangerous that he filed a complaint with the faa the case landed on the desk of the agency's top regional attorney loretta alkalay they were shocking allegations of violations by an airline captain falsifying a load manifest to indicate that there were fewer passengers than there actually were and flying over gross so it was a pretty outrageous case based on its investigation the faa revoked the captain's license and i think the biggest issue really is what did colgan do i mean what did colgan do when we revoked one of their pilots i mean that's really the question what did they do i mean you would think that that they had done a top to bottom review about what was going on but what kogan did surprised alkale the company testified at an appeal hearing in support of the captain and debennis director of operations yes testifies that you're a problem right i think he did yeah and the captain model pilot whose model i don't know not my model but apparently colgan's model according to the director of operations and he said that under oath in an ntsb hearing which raises the question in my mind how come colgan isn't under investigation why do they still have an air carry certificate and especially if their director of operations is you know officially supporting an unsafe captain and not supporting a you know a first officer's trying to scream safety i don't understand why they would come in and support him i mean it was it was breathtaking and it's um horror at the time i mean it was horrifying so that to you presented a whole host of other questions about this particular airline colgan i think anyone who've read that file would have had the same questions that i had it just raised red flags as to whether or not there was a corporate culture that needed to be looked at frontline has learned that the safety warnings contained in this case were forwarded to faa headquarters in washington it was just four months before the crash of continental flight 3407.
the buffalo crash has galvanized efforts to raise safety standards at the regional airlines we're here because of the 51 lives that were lost the families of the victims are lobbying congress for legislative changes that strengthen pilot qualifications raise training standards and improve fatigue policies i think the signs were all there in the beginning i mean this has all been out there it just wasn't exposed and it's a shame that these issues weren't able to be addressed and brought to the forefront until this plane fell out of the sky but the fixes the families are pushing have met resistance regional industry has its own views on how much change is needed ceo of pinnacle the current owner of colgan was in washington at those august senate hearings mr trenary came over to offer his condolences to the families etc and he came up to me and i said well there's nothing going to change what happened you know we can't change that i said but we we do hope to change things moving forward and we need to we need to get this thing fixed and uh um he looks at me he looks at me and he says we fixed it just like that and it took my breath away i i looked back at him and i and i said excuse me and he says he says we agree it needs to be fixed and we've fixed it as you are aware on june 15th we made this call to action to promote a renewed and robust safety discourse within the aviation community the new faa administrator is also optimistic about fixing the problems the agency is developing new pilot work rules and has launched an industry-wide call to action it encourages all airlines to voluntarily share their best safety practices we've done a call to action to promote things people are implementing already we don't even have the reports out and they're already implementing some of the best practices that we found in this call to action so i think it speaks pretty highly that this is an industry let's face it a bad safety record is bad for business too and it's not without you know some motivation that you should be safe but the good news is they are it's too early to know what impact these changes will have on safety at regional airlines but skeptics say they've heard these promises before we hear from the faa one level of safety we heard from the faa that they no longer promote the carriers they throw out terms of art designed to lull the public into the belief that all carriers are equally safe and that was something that they said again and again and again after the value jet crash and other crashes they say all carriers are equally safe the public is starting to figure out that's not true all groups and all passengers all groups and all passengers some insiders see the need for a more fundamental solution the industry's problems will not be solved they say until the major airlines take greater responsibility for the safe operations of their regional partners it's just not regulation the industry needs to step forward and look at how this firewall that was developed because of business reasons between the line carriers and the regionals doesn't make a lot of sense your experience folks not just in the cockpit but also the training organizations in the safety experts are up in that other airline in the big guy they should be mentoring and bringing along and developing the regional carrier underneath one thing that absolutely is their obligation is for them to be doing very very thorough audits of those operators they ought to be crawling around these regional operators they need to have their hands on the operation they need to have their hands on the training programs big brother needs to be looking over little brother because again continental sold that ticket not colgan people who bought that ticket thought they were flying on continental and they thought they were buying continental safety [Music] this is not about two pilots this isn't even about colgan air and continental this is about an industry it's just morphed away from where it wanted to be and it just slid away and no one was watching and monitoring enough until you have crashes and you have loss of life we got lulled into a false sense of security by a statistic that it is the safest period of air travel we allowed some serious safety gaps to exist and unfortunately in our case they all came together and we're feeling a lot of pain and hurt because of that [Music] [Music] next time on frontline more than a decade before the economic meltdown washington was warned what frontline and something new from frontline in the days after katrina violence encounters between police and civilians people were shot and killed by the new orleans police department six controversial cases there's no police report they said something about a shootout the times picayune propublica frontline and you uncover the truth there are all these unanswered questions an online investigation of law and disorder at pbs.org front lines flying cheap is available on dvd to order visit shoppbs.org or call 1-800 play pbs frontline is made possible by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you thank you with major funding from the john d and catherine t macarthur foundation committed to building a more just verdant and peaceful world with additional funding from the park foundation [Music] you