Babbitt to pilots: read Colgan transcript

 - August 25, 2009, 12:09 PM

FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt urged an audience gathered for last month’s Air Line Pilots Association Air Safety Forum to read the CVR transcripts from Colgan Air Flight 3407 as a lesson in how professionalism–or lack thereof–in the cockpit might influence the outcome of an emergency. Babbitt avoided projecting any conclusions of his own, but his speech centered on an unambiguous message to the veteran pilots in attendance.
“If you haven’t read the transcript of the CVR for the Colgan accident, I’d encourage you to do so,” he said. “The professionalism of the flight crew has been raised as an issue–and this isn’t the first time. We’ve got to put a stop to that.”
The CVR transcripts offer clear evidence that the flight’s captain, Marvin Renslow, and first officer, Rebecca Shaw, violated the so-called “sterile cockpit” rules as they began their descent into Buffalo during an otherwise routine flight from Newark International Airport on February 12. The CVR recorded talk about prospects for upgrades and employment at other airlines, Renslow’s recollections of a Houston-based controller nicknamed “Mister Happy” and Shaw’s apprehension about flying in icing conditions.
Extended transcripts released by the NTSB in late July revealed that Shaw had complained to Renslow about feeling ill before the two received clearance to take off from Newark. “This is one of those times that if I felt like this when I was at home there’s no way I would have come out here,” said Shaw, who commuted to Newark from her home in the Seattle area. “I mean if I call in sick now I’ve got to put myself in a hotel until I feel better. We’ll see how it feels flying,” she continued. “If the pressure’s just too much I could always call in tomorrow…at least I’m in a hotel on the company’s buck but we’ll see. I’m pretty tough.”
The CVR also recorded several periods of sniffling and sneezing by Shaw. As captain of the flight, Renslow could have removed Shaw from duty. Rather than recommending she pull out of the flight, Renslow suggested Shaw “could kill [the cold] with a bunch of OJ or a bunch of vitamin C.”
Babbitt delivered his speech under the working title “You Can’t Legislate Professionalism.”
“Just having that experience isn’t enough,” he said. “The people with the experience need to make sure they’re mentoring the ones who don’t have it.”