June 10, 2009

Gillibrand Giving Voice to Buffalo Crash Families - Raising Their Questions to Top Aviation Officials

Senator To Get Answers From DOT, FAA, NTSB

Washington, D.C. - At today's Senate Commerce Committee hearing on Aviation Safety & FAA Oversight, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand will submit questions from the family members of victims in the Flight 3407 crash in Buffalo about fundamental failures in our aviation system. After meeting with the families who lost loved ones on Flight 3407, Senator Gillibrand wants to ensure that their questions about a variety of safety issues are addressed. To that end, Senator Gillibrand asked family members to submit questions to her office, and in turn, Subcommittee Chairman Byron Dorgan has agreed to submit them for the record, which will be answered in writing.

Witnesses at the hearing entitled "Aviation Safety: FAA's Role in the Oversight of Air Carriers" include, Mark V. Rosenker, Acting Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, Calvin L. Scovel III, Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Transportation, J. Randolph Babbitt, Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, and John O'Brien, Board Member of the Flight Safety Foundation.


Senator Gillibrand's letter and questions are below:


June 10, 2009

Senator Byron Dorgan, Chairman
Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety and Security
Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation
United States Senate

Dear Chairman Dorgan,

I want to thank you for holding a hearing on the issue of the Federal Aviation Administration and its role in the oversight of commercial air carriers.  This issue has become a very personal one for me.

In meeting with the families, who lost loved ones, I heard tremendous concerns about fundamental failures in our aviation system.  These families have raised questions about a variety of issues, from uniformity of training requirements to relations between the regulators and the airlines they regulate.

Although not a Member of your Subcommittee, I want to ensure that the questions of the family members of Flight 3407 do not go unanswered.  To that end, I have asked family members to submit questions to my office, and I ask that their questions, in turn, be submitted for the record.

It is my hope, and the hope of those who lost loved ones on that flight, that the answers will lead to changes in the way that the Federal Aviation Administration operates and interacts with the airline industry.

I thank you for your attention to this request, and ask that you contact me with any questions.

Sincerely,

Kirsten E. Gillibrand
United States Senator

 

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Senator Kirsten Gillibrand

Questions from the families of Flight 3407 for the Record

Hearing on Aviation Safety: FAA's Role in the Oversight of Commercial Air Carriers

1.  FAA Standards -

Families of Flight 3407 have been repeatedly told that Colgan Air met all FAA standards, but they have serious questions about the ‘minimum' standards that are used when it comes to experience requirements for being hired or upgraded, hands-on (i.e., simulator time) training for stall identification and recovery, operating in icing conditions, and the amount of time spent training on crew resource management, particularly sterile cockpit procedures.

How does the FAA arrive at these ‘minimums', and how often, if ever, are they re-evaluated?

2.  FAA Oversight -

Another major issue raised by the families of Flight 3407 is whether an FAA Principal Operations Inspector (POI) enabled to correct deficiencies in an airline's day-to-day operating procedures.  According to the families of Flight 3407, when asked about numerous delays in Colgan's publication of a Company Flight Manual (CFM) for the Q-400 and whether he had imposed deadlines on Colgan to speed things up, Colgan's POI Douglas Lundgren stated that the only way he could influence things were through ‘diplomatic persuasion and arm-twisting.'

Are the POI's keeping the airlines in check, or in reality, is it the other way around?  What actions can be taken to give more ‘teeth' to the authority of POI's to ensure airline compliance to safety procedures and operations?

3.  Safety Alerts (SAFO's) -

When it comes to the mechanical side of the planes itself, the FAA can issue Airworthiness Directives (AD's) that require manufacturers and/or airlines to take certain steps to address deficiencies.  During testimony at the NTSB hearings, it was explained that, short of making a rule, the strongest recourse available to the FAA is a Safety Alert for Operators (SAFO's), which is merely a recommendation rather than a requirement for airlines to follow.  Furthermore, the FAA has no mechanism in place to even get feedback on the percentage of Part 121 airlines that are complying with the SAFO's.

What can we do to strengthen the FAA's authority when it comes to ensuring that much-needed improvements in these operational or procedural areas are actually implemented by these Part 121 carriers?

4.  One Level of Safety -

Following the tragedy, Continental is now offering Colgan pilots Continental's two-day Crew Resource Management/Threat Error Management (CRM/TEM) program.  As more and more major carrier flights are being operated by regional airlines, the major carriers should make advanced training programs available to regional partners.  Given that the regional partners have smaller training budgets, yet must train pilots who are less experienced, what steps can be taken to provide the appropriate level of training - the same level offered by major carriers?

Additionally, according to the family members I have spoken with, the NTSB hearings emphasized that Colgan was deficient in implementing industry-wide best practice safety initiatives, such as FOQA (Flight Operation Quality Assurance program) and LOSA (Line Observation Safety Audits).  These programs are only recommended, but never required.  How can we make sure that these regional airlines offer their passengers the same level of safety as the major carriers?

5.  Cost-Benefit Analysis of Safety Recommendation Implementation -

Following the crash that took the life of Senator Paul Wellstone in 2003, the NTSB recommended that the FAA study the feasibility of installing an aural, non-startling low airspeed alert that would give pilots more time to react to an impending stall and avoid reaching a speed where the stick shaker would activate.  To date, the FAA has not implemented this recommendation, which means that existing planes do not have to be retrofitted for it, and new planes do not have to be equipped with it either.  A device like this could have prevented many of the recent accidents and incidents such as Flight 3407, where loss of airspeed was a factor.

Please explain the calculations that go into determining why technology like this does not get implemented; what something like this would cost per airplane, versus the number of passengers carried on that plane and its rate of having an incident or accident?