The crash of Colgan Air Flight 3407 no doubt left its mark on the “Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements” issued this month by the National Transportation Safety Board, and for good reason. The Board’s first “most wanted” item essentially reiterates a pair of 2005 NTSB recommendations to which the FAA responded with only an Advisory Circular. Unfortunately, the FAA’s advisement did not prevent Capt. Marvin Renslow from omitting information about two failed check rides on his employment application, nor did it ensure that he receive more training to perhaps better prepare him for the conditions he confronted on Feb. 12, 2009, the night the Bombardier Q400 he piloted crashed outside Buffalo, N.Y., killing 50.
In fact, Colgan Air complied with all the FAA regulations now in place, which essentially mandate that airlines comply with the Pilot Records Improvement Act (PRIA)–the 1996 federal law that sets the standards for airline background checks.
But while the PRIA requires airlines to check records kept by prior airline employers dating back five years, it doesn’t mandate a check of FAA notices of certificate disapproval per se. Rather, it requires that the pilot sign a waiver allowing for such a check, explained a panel of NTSB investigators interviewed by AIN. Colgan asked neither Renslow nor copilot Rebecca Shaw to sign a waiver, according to the investigators. If it had asked for the waivers and then checked those records, it would have discovered two of Renslow’s disapprovals prior to his employment at Gulfstream International Airlines–the Florida-based regional for which he worked before taking the job at Colgan in 2005.
Once he began working for Colgan, Renslow failed two more check rides. Although the fact that he passed subsequent checks technically cleared him to fly, Colgan’s own records did not contain enough detail for the company or its principle operations inspector to properly analyze the captain’s trend of unsatisfactory performance and perhaps address deficiencies with more training, according to the NTSB.
This week the Board recommended that the FAA require all Part 135 and Part 121 carriers to obtain any notices of disapproval for flight checks for certificates and ratings for all pilot applicants. It also advised the FAA to require all Part 121 operators to establish remedial training programs for crewmembers who have demonstrated performance deficiencies or training failures. The Board has designated the summary recommendation contained in its “Most Wanted” list, namely “improve oversight of pilot proficiency,” as “Red,” ¬meaning the FAA’s previous response earned a grade of unacceptable. Perhaps, this time, given all the negative attention this accident has generated, the FAA will feel compelled to act more forcefully.