Bloomberg News

Airline in Buffalo Crash Cited for Crew-Rest Violations

March 02, 2012

U.S. aviation regulators fined Pinnacle Airline Corp. (PNCL)’s Colgan Air unit $153,000 for scheduling pilots and flight attendants to work longer than the law allows.

Pilot fatigue at Colgan was investigated after one of its turboprop planes crashed near Buffalo, New York, on Feb. 12, 2009, killing 50 people in the last fatal accident involving a U.S. passenger airline. The violations cited today occurred during a period including the crash, the Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement.

Congress after the accident ordered the FAA to revise its rules for pilot scheduling. Colgan illegally scheduled two captains, two co-pilots and six flight attendants between June 14, 2008, and Feb. 23, 2009, the FAA said in its statement.

The airline scheduled them to work seven days in a row, the FAA release said. U.S. regulations require that pilots and flight attendants receive at least 24 hours off after working six days.

Colgan also failed to give three flight attendants the minimum eight hours off between shifts, the FAA said. Those incidents took place on June 15, 2008, and Sept. 16, 2008, according to the agency statement.

In another case, the airline scheduled a co-pilot on Nov. 7, 2008, to fly longer than eight hours in one day, exceeding the U.S. limit, according to the statement.

Questions of Fatigue

The airline intends to challenge the penalty, Joe Williams, a spokesman for Memphis, Tennessee-based Pinnacle, said in an e- mail. The carrier has “invested heavily” in improving safety since the accident, Williams said.

“We believe we complied with all applicable duty and rest rules and will respond accordingly,” he said.

Colgan has 30 days to respond. Airlines frequently negotiate for lower penalties than the FAA proposes.

The National Transportation Safety Board blamed the Buffalo accident on the captain’s overreaction to a cockpit warning, which sent the plane into a series of violent maneuvers before it plunged to the ground.

The captain had interrupted sleep the night before at the airport and the first officer had commuted to work on overnight flights, the safety board concluded.

The investigative agency stopped short of citing fatigue as a contributing factor in the accident. Because both pilots had not received a good night’s sleep prior to the accident, fatigue was explored in the agency’s final report.

The FAA introduced pilot scheduling rules designed to limit fatigue in December. The rules reduce the hours pilots can work late at night, after crossing numerous time zones or while making numerous landings and takeoffs. It also requires pilots to sign a document before each flight assuring that they are fit to fly.

The rules will take effect in December 2013.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alan Levin in Washington at alevin24@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Bernard Kohn at bkohn2@bloomberg.net


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