How One Flight Completely Changed Aviation Safety In The United States
On February 12, 2009 something happened that would reshape the safety standards in the United States completely. While the day started off normal for everyone around the world, for some it ended in grief. Yet that grief sparked a movement to redefine the safety in the United States and change how everybody would fly in the future. This is the story of Flight 3407. Continental Airlines marketed this flight as Continental Connection. The brand included several regional airlines in the United States. One of them was Colgan Air. Colgan Air operated the flight 3407 between New York and Buffalo with a Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 turboprop aircraft.
The flight 3407 was supposed to take off at 7:30 PM. Due to a winter storm, the operators decided to delay the flight to wait for better weather. Continental Airlines also warned the passengers that delays would occur in the East Coast. After almost 2 hours, the Continental Connection flight finally took off. The clock showed 9:18 PM when the Bombardier turboprop took off from Newark.
Two pilots operating the plane were Captain Marvin Renslow and First Officer Rebecca Shaw. However, as the Q400 approached the runway and began landing procedures, the plane started to pitch and roll. Just before, the crew requested 3 separate descends. Firstly, from 16,000 feet, then 12,000, then finally the aircraft was at 11,000 feet. The Pilot and the First Officer had discussed ice buildup before descending. Previously the crew has already activated de-icing systems on the aircraft. As the crew prepared the aircraft for landing, they lowered the landing gear.
Afterward, they raised the flaps to maintain lift at lower speeds and that’s when tragedy struck. As airspeed continued to drop, Q400’s stick shaker activated. The Stick Shaker is a device to warn the pilots of an incoming stall. The captain responded to the device improperly, and the stick pusher activated to prevent the aircraft from stalling. The captain overpowered the stick pusher. Furthermore, the first officer lowered the flaps, which was a mistake. The aircraft stalled and crashed into a house in Clarence Centre in the state of New York. As a result, 50 people died. 49 passengers and crew members onboard and 1 in a house that the aircraft struck during the accident.
Resilience in the Face of Adversity
The crash took away the lives of many people. As the families grieved for their loved ones, they united under one roof. Not to grief together, but to make changes. Make changes so that everybody, who stepped their foot on an aircraft in the United States would feel safer. A few months later, the National Transportation Safety Board held a hearing. According to information, the flight captain had failed three tests beforehand. NTSB suggested that the pilot did not have the proper training to handle stalling situations.
Crew fatigue could have also played a role in the crash, but NTSB board members argued otherwise. What was clear though, that the people working in the cockpit were violating federal rules regarding communication during the flight. Colgan Air also acknowledged that the pilots did not properly respond nor read the flight instruments and failed to properly respond to the Bombardier Dash 8 stalling.
Almost a year after the crash, the NTSB published its final report to determine the reason for the crash. NTSB stated that the people working in the cockpit responded to a stall completely the opposite way to their training. On the other hand, the board also concluded that anti-stall training at the time was not up to par. Repeating the first hearings, NTSB also confirmed Colgan Air’s statement – the pilots did not respond correctly to the instrument readings.
The NTSB argued amongst them whether fatigue also contributed to the accident. The current chairman at the time, Deborah Hersman stated that it did contribute. However, the vice chairman and a member of the board debated that it did not, as there was not enough evidence to point to fatigue as a reason.
Changes After Flight 3407
After the hearings and the final report, the families of the victims did not plan to give up. They planned to change the way Americans travel. The families set out to change very specific aviation safety laws. Although their mission is not yet finished, they pushed the United States Congress to pass PL 111-216, The Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010. To sum up, the law is one of the most influential changes to the safety standards of aviation. First of all, a lot more transparency followed the new extension act. The Federal Aviation Administration established an electronic database of all pilot records. Airlines are required to check these records whenever they want to hire a pilot. Although the FAA has still not yet established the database, citing software issues.
The new act requires an FAA administrator to do an annual report on training and safety in airlines. It also pushed airlines to display the correct airline, which would operate the flight – this is very important regarding regional carriers. Secondly, crew management completely changed. The law secured more rest time for the crew. Beforehand, airlines gave pilots an 8 hour resting period between shifts. Currently, airlines are required to give 10 hours of rest with 8 hours of sleep. Airlines are also required to present their Fatigue Risk management plans to an FAA administrator. Companies also could hire a pilot only if it has 1.500 flight hours on his resume.
And lastly, pilots now learn about dangerous situations in simulators, rather than theoretical classes.
The Fruits Of Their Work
A lot of aviation experts attribute the unparallel safety in the United States to the aftermath of the crash of Flight 3407. From 2010 onwards, commercial aviation in the United States has seen only 1 fatality, which was when a passenger on a Southwest flight was killed when an engine cover destroyed a window on the Boeing 737. But their fight is not over yet. Congress still has not passed the law requiring pilots to have 1.500 flight hours before airlines can hire them. Furthermore, the FAA has still not finished the flight record database. In any case, the work of the victims‘ families has saved many other innocent lives. And we thank them for their hard and emotionally draining work to change the way we travel in the air. Please support them and visit their website right here: http://www.3407memorial.com/index.php/home