Disturbing

Today’s Wall Street Journal concluded that poor training was the cause of the Continental Airlines Flight tragedy that occurred Feb 12, 2009, killing 49 people.

Capt. Marvin Renslow had never been properly trained by the company to respond to a warning system designed to prevent the plane from going into a stall, according to people familiar with the investigation. As the speed slowed to a dangerous level, setting off the stall-prevention system, he did the opposite of the proper procedure, which led to the crash

Where there are airplane crashes, you will find lawyers and lawsuits. It’s a long standing tradition. Usually it’s pilot error as seems to be the case here. The difference is that most people blame the plane manufacturer. This is analogous to suing a car company each time someone drives a car into a tree. You can’t possibly make a plane crash or idiot proof so every pilot and passenger in a small general aviation plane accept an element of  inherent risk.

This risk acceptance diverges in commercial operations designated in part 121 in the Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR). There is an expectation that safe travel should be “guaranteed” to customers. The safety record for airline travel in the U.S. is excellent. Both training and equipment are at the highest levels.

That’s what bothers me about this. The pilot had a history of flunking check rides . He also failed in his initial attempt to qualify as a co-pilot on the Beech 1900 aircraft and also on the Saab 340 turboprop. I’ve always labored under the thought that commercial pilots were the best and that the screening process was rigorous. Instead, I wonder if the lower time pilots may be less qualified to handle emergencies, especially icing conditions. Roselawn comes to mind.

Strange that the pilot yanked back on the controls in a stall. All pilots in planes small and large are drilled on stall recovery. You instinctively pitch down, not up – especially in turbine powered aircraft that do not have instantaneous power response. Relentless training prevents wrong reactions and instincts. We may never have all the answers but I now feel a little less confident flying on aircraft (such as commuter planes) where pilots rank low on seniority.

Update:Lex gives us another reason to be concerned about commercial aviation. Soon, passengers will want to review maintenance logs before boarding.

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2 responses to “Disturbing

  1. I’m not quite sure why you’ve decided to mention Roselawn here, since that investigation revealed inherent problems with the deicing system of the ATR-42 and 72 series aircraft led to the crash. If anyone is to blame in that case, it is the manufacturer (as well as the FAA for allowing the plane to fly in the US without performing their own certification). The investigation also revealed the pilots did everything they could with the information available to them, and nearly managed to recover the aircraft but simply ran out of altitude.

  2. A fair comment. I brought up Roselawn as it was an infamous icing accident close to home where the PIC failed to recover.
    Appreciate having you set the record straight. This tragedy was not pilot error and the blame does indeed rest with the FAA and the airplane manufacturer. The NTSB write up is here:

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