WASHINGTON – Federal lawmakers and the Families of Continental Connection Flight 3407 reacted with outrage at the Federal Aviation Administration on Monday in the wake of a former Colgan Air executive’s admission that the FAA warned the airline about safety issues six months before the 2009 plane crash that claimed 50 lives.
“The alarming revelation that the FAA knew about safety issues at Colgan Air prior to the crash of Flight 3407, and did very little, demonstrates it is not enough just to have tough rules – the FAA must be aggressive in their enforcement of them,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y.
Meanwhile, family members who lost loved ones in the crash said the revelations reopened old wounds.
“It is sickening to hear once again, this time from an insider, the depths that the FAA allowed regional airlines to descend to,” said John Kausner of Clarence, who lost his daughter Ellyce in the crash.
The lawmakers and family members were responding to a story in Sunday’s Buffalo News, in which Dan Morgan, former vice president for safety and compliance at Colgan, said that the FAA warned Colgan about safety concerns in August 2008.
Colgan responded at the time by developing a safety slideshow that executives presented to employees, but Morgan said the FAA never followed up.
The lawmakers and the family members agreed that Morgan’s revelations should prompt the FAA to enact the tough new pilot training and experience regulations that it has promised to finalize this year.
“It just reinforces how important it is that the FAA get these new rules in place by the new deadlines,” said Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence.
Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-N.Y., agreed. “This outrageous negligence cost us 50 lives,” she said. “If we’re going to prevent the next tragedy and save lives in the future, we need to finish the effort led by the families who lost loved ones on Flight 3407, and implement all of the rules we wrote into the new FAA safety law.”
Susan Bourque of East Aurora, who lost her sister, 9/11 activist Beverly Eckert, in the crash, said Morgan’s story proved that the airline industry “is only as strong as its weakest link.”
“That’s why it is so important to raise the federal minimum standards in key safety areas,” she said. “That’s where the emphasis needs to be to prevent future crashes, accidents and incidents and to ensure that the best qualified, best trained and well rested pilots are in the cockpit for all commercial flights – regional or major.”
Told that lawmakers and family members were angry about Morgan’s revelations, FAA spokeswoman Kristie M. Greco responded with a statement indicating the agency had forced improvements at Colgan before the crash.
“As a result of FAA oversight, Colgan Airlines implemented many safety changes prior to the accident, including adding more employees, enhancing safety training for all employees, reducing pilot flying time by reducing ferry flights, and making maintenance improvements,” the statement said.
But the Flight 3407 families weren’t buying the FAA’s explanation.
“I would think that if (the FAA’s action) had its true intended effect, my husband would be alive today with myself and our daughter enjoying his life and family,” said Jennifer West, who lost her husband, Ernie, in the crash.
The August 2008 meeting in which FAA officials noted their safety concerns to Colgan executives was never mentioned in the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation of the 2009 crash.
Asked for an explanation, NTSB spokesman Keith Holloway said:”We documented and conducted a full investigation. All the facts that investigators believe were relevant to our investigation were included in our docket, public hearing and analyzed in our final report. With that, there is not much more that can be added.”
Meanwhile, a spokesman for Airlines for America, an industry group, defended the safety of regional airlines.
“Safety is always our highest priority, and the regional partners of our member airlines all meet the high safety standards of the FAA and our members,” said Katie Connell, the airlines’ spokeswoman.
But Karen Eckert, another of Beverly Eckert’s sisters, questioned the FAA’s standards.
“For the FAA to accept a slide show without any substantive follow-up is pretty outrageous after the FAA sounded the alarm,” she said. “Seems like the FAA took the easy way out: tell us something, give us something and we will check that box that says everything is OK.”
Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, concurred. “If the FAA had safety concerns, they should have acted on them,” he said.