An examination of National Transportation Safety Board records showed that eight of the nine crashes involving regional air carriers in the last decade had pilots who failed multiple Federal Aviation Administration “check rides” aimed at making sure the pilots were competent in case of an emergency.
In the one flight where a pilot had not failed the test, a co-pilot was discovered to have falsified information on his application.
A February 12, 2009 Buffalo airplane crash involving a commuter plane that killed 50 people was the first fatal plane accident involving a commercial aircraft in the United States in over two years. Although the plane was operated under the Continental brand, the flight was operated by the regional carrier Colgan Air, which is owned by Pinnacle Airlines.
Pilot qualifications on regional flights came under scrutiny last month at an NTSB hearing after the Buffalo crash, where it was revealed that the pilot had failed five flight tests. It was suggested that the pilot may not have been adequately trained to respond to the emergency that led to the airplane crash and crew fatigue was also suspected as a possible factor in the crash.
Regional airline flights account for about half of all flights in the United States.
According to the USA Today report, the Regional Airline Association defends their safety practices, pointing out that the operators fly under the same safety standards as major airlines. However, pilots on major airlines and large cargo haulers were only found to have multiple flight test failures in one serious accident over the last ten years, compared to eight accidents involving regional carriers.
The NTSB is working on closing a loophole in the 1996 Pilot Records Improvement Act that requires airline check pilot flight records from previous employers, but not from flight schools.