Q400 Crash Renews Scrutiny on Regional Airlines

 - February 27, 2009, 8:04 AM

The crash of a Colgan Air Bombardier Q400 that killed 50 people outside Buffalo on February 12 once again has the industry group that represents U.S. regional airlines fielding some familiar questions about the level of safety its members guarantee to the traveling public.

Since August 2003, regional airlines have accounted for five of the last six fatal accidents involving FAR Part 121 passenger-carrying operations in the U.S., according to the accident database maintained by the NTSB. Two other fatal accidents during that span involving regional airlines resulted in the death of four pilots performing Part 91 repositioning flights. 

Nevertheless, Regional Airline Association president Roger Cohen attributes the succession of regional airline fatalities to little more than coincidence. “For five years before [this] string started, it had been nothing but mainline airline deaths,” he argued. Today, though, regional airlines account for half of all departures in the U.S., exposing them at least as often as their mainline counterparts to the phase of flight during which most accidents occur.

Still, said Cohen, “to characterize this as a trend is just wrong, because there’s no pattern” to the accidents involving regionals. In the six fatal accidents preceding the crash Colgan Air Flight 3407, probable causes ranged from pilot error and fatigue to poor maintenance oversight to flawed weight and balance practices.