Share This Page

Report faults FAA for small airlines' risks

| Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013, 6:09 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Since a deadly airline crash in 2009, the government has not kept its promise to ensure that major airlines are holding their smaller partners to the same safety standards, a federal watchdog says.

The Transportation Department's inspector general faults the Federal Aviation Administration for not taking steps to encourage the big airlines “to consistently share safety information and best practices” with regional airlines that operate flights under contract for them.

That business link is known as code-sharing, by which one airline sells tickets for seats on a flight operated by another airline — United and United Express, for example.

More than half of all airline flights in the United States are operated by regional airlines using names such as United Express, Delta Connection, American Connection and US Airways Express under code-sharing arrangements.

A flight operated by regional carrier Colgan Air for Continental Airlines under the name Continental Express crashed in February 2009 near Buffalo, killing 50 people. After that crash, officials at the department and the FAA said they would begin reviewing code-share contracts to see if they impinged on safety.

Investigators cited pilot training lapses by Colgan as a factor. Colgan ended flying in September as part of its parent company's restructuring.

A National Transportation Safety Board investigation and congressional hearings after the Colgan crash pointed out the differences in safety cultures that sometimes occur between the two types of airlines.

For example, at that time, some regional carriers were hiring pilots with as few as 250 hours of flight experience, which FAA rules allow. Major airlines typically hired pilots with about 10 times that much experience.

After the crash, pilot unions and safety advocates said regional carriers were driven to cut corners on safety, including hiring inexperienced pilots at low wages, in part to meet performance goals required under the code-sharing contracts. Airlines that met their goals often earned more money under the agreements, while those that failed to meet such goals were sometimes penalized.

The FAA, despite earlier promises, is not reviewing any code-share contracts for their safety implications, and the Transportation Department reviews only a small share for their potential economic impact, not safety, the report stated.

“As a result, most domestic code-share agreements go into effect without being reviewed by any (federal) regulatory entity,” the report stated.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.