NTSB Concerned About Widespread Problems Contributing To Crash <


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NTSB Concerned About Widespread Problems Contributing To Crash

Daniel Guevarra

March 28, 2010 - The National Transportation Safety Board issued its final report on the Continental connection Flight 3407 that crashed into a house near Buffalo last February, killing 50 people. The report cites pilot error as the main cause of the crash of the Continental flight operated by Colgan Air.

The pilot and the first officer entered contradictory information into the cockpit computer system, the NTSB said, triggering a false alarm. According to a report in the New York Times, the pilot responded to the false alarm by pulling the control column in the wrong direction, leading to the crash.

The NTSB also found that the Colgan flight's first officer contributed to the crash by violating sterile cockpit regulations. In the moments before take-off, all conversation is required to be relevant to the flight take-off process, a condition known as "sterile cockpit."

But the NTSB report disclosed that the first officer sent two text messages from the cockpit, one during sterile cockpit time. Several other findings also related to pilot attentiveness. The NTSB noted that the pilot and co-pilot both failed to notice declining air speed indicated on the display in front of them, which would have alerted them that an alarm was about to activate. When the alarm did activate, the pilot responded as though startled, pushing the throttle forward insufficiently, before committing the error that ultimately doomed the flight. The pilot grabbed the control column, pushing it backwards instead of forward. The effect was to orient the plane upwards without adequate speed to maintain its trajectory, and the plane slipped into aerodynamic stall.

Conversation unrelated to the operation of the airplane distracted the pilots from their job, according to the NTSB report. Issues like pilot attentiveness call into play both training and professionalism, the former easier to remedy than the latter. The FAA acknowledged that some of the issues identified in its report are unlikely to be fixed for years, if ever.

When it comes to recommending solutions to the problems uncovered in the Colgan Air crash, perhaps one of the most challenging findings involves pilot fatigue. The co-pilot on Flight 3407 flew in from Seattle, spending the entire night before the crash in flight on two different planes. Pilot fatigue is difficult to regulate since it can stem from such a wide variety of circumstances. And regulations governing pre-flight behaviors that might lead to fatigue are likely to meet resistance from airlines and from pilots themselves.

The families of the crash victims hope to see Congressional action on flight safety in lieu of new Federal Aviation Administration regulations, the New York Times reported. The FAA regulatory process on average takes two and a half years from initiation to final rule publication, and sometimes as long as a decade, according to a July 2001 Government Accountability Office report. Among the issues families of the crash victims hope Congress will address are maximum work hours and minimum qualifications for first officers on commuter airlines.
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