At last report Comair first officer James Polehinke still didn’t recall his abrupt and tragic entry into the ranks of this year’s newsmakers. Unfortunately for the 44-year-old resident of Margate, Fla., his lack of memory hasn’t made the knowledge that 49 other people died in the crumpled and charred hulk of the Bombardier CRJ100 he piloted any less painful.
An NTSB safety recommendation issued last week that calls for airline pilots to cross-check heading references ends with a notation from Safety Board member Kathryn O’Leary Higgins that highlights its failure to include Part 91 and Part 135 operators.
Comair’s operating procedures did not include any written guidance specific to runway identification for takeoff before Flight 5191 crashed and burned in a field off Lexington Blue Grass Airport on August 27, despite a 1989 NTSB recommendation that called for the FAA to ensure that the manuals of all Part 121 operators require runway cross checks, said the Board in a new safety recommendation to the FAA last month.
The labor crisis at Comair appeared headed for a climax late last month as the Cincinnati-based airline’s management and pilot representatives prepared to meet for a last-ditch effort to reach a deal.
Atlantic Southeast Airlines (ASA) pilots on December 15 picketed the company’s newest flight crew base, at Los Angeles International Airport, to protest the lack of progress in their contract talks with management.
The family of one of the victims of the August 27 crash of Comair Flight 5191 in Lexington, Ky., has amended its lawsuit to include charges that Bombardier failed to adequately protect passengers from flammable jet fuel in its design of the CRJ. The Fayette County coroner originally said the post-crash fire killed the 49 victims but later said autopsies determined that most had died from blunt force trauma.
Comair’s Cincinnati maintenance and repair facilities received FAA approval to perform third-party heavy maintenance on other airlines’ 50- and 70-seat Bombardier CRJs, making it one of nine Part 145 CRJ repair stations in the U.S. and potentially softening the blow of a major cut in Delta Connection flying.
Comair reached concessionary labor agreements with its mechanics and flight attendants late last month, but at press time a deal with its pilots continued to elude the Cincinnati-based regional, a major portion of whose route network stands subject to outsourcing by Delta Air Lines to independent carriers.
Comair’s flight attendants last month voted to accept a new five-year contract that would pay new cabin crew about 20 percent less than current employees, moving Comair one step closer to meeting its cost-cutting goals and adding 35 regional jets starting next month. The extra capacity will mean another 350 flight attendant jobs and guarantee existing workers their scheduled pay raises over the life of the contract.
When corporate headquarters in Atlanta called on Comair to fly Bombardier CRJs three times a day from Cincinnati into Missouri’s Springfield-Branson Regional Airport, the wholly owned Delta subsidiary faced a dilemma familiar to regional airlines everywhere–how to establish a new station too small to justify the cost of the needed equipment and staff. Until recently, the only option lay with hiring another airline to perform the duties.