Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Feds Turn Attention Back to Safety of Regional Carriers

The National Transportation Safety Board is once again turning its attention to an aviation safety issue that also has California plane crash lawyers very concerned. Airline partnerships between the major national carriers and smaller regional carriers have existed for decades now. However, these partnerships that are so profitable to the airline industry really burst into the forefront as an aviation safety issue, after the Colgan Air crash of 2009. Flight 3407 crashed into a Buffalo neighborhood last year killing 49 people on board, and one person on the ground.

Regional carriers are used to transport people to the major hubs, from where they can then use the bigger national carriers. Unfortunately, these partnerships are typically devised in a manner to conceal from passengers that they will be using the regional carrier for at least one section of the travel. These partnerships are widely used in the industry, to the extent that regional carriers now account for more than 50% of all domestic travel within the United States.

The partnerships work through code sharing agreements that allow both the national and the regional carriers to benefit through efficiencies in flight connection times, integrated baggage handling, savings in marketing costs and gate handling costs. In theory, travel agents, ticket agents, regional carriers, as well as major airlines are supposed to make it clear to passengers who buy a ticket, that a section of the travel will be operated by another regional carrier. However, in practice, that rarely happens. Most passengers are completely surprised to learn that they will actually be traveling on a regional carrier for one section of the flight.

Unfortunately, regional carriers have a reputation for employing pilots with insufficient training and experience because they can be paid lower salaries. That sets off a vicious cycle where you have pilots with low skills and experience, who have been paid lower salaries, and therefore, can't afford to live near the airline hubs. The situation brings into play other plane crash factors, like fatigue when pilots have to travel long distances to actually reach the airport. These factors contributed significantly to the Colgan Air plane crash.

There are increasingly calls for the national carriers to ensure that their regional partners employ pilots with the same kind of training as the national carriers do. It's high time that the national carriers, which profit from code sharing, devote the resources necessary to ensure that their partners are employing the best safety practices.

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