The trial centering on the crash of Flight 3407 is still months away, but it has already performed a service to the flying public by adding to the knowledge of what caused the crash. The trial is just one part of the effort to shed light on the tragedy in Clarence Center 4 ½ years ago.
Since the crash that claimed 50 lives, the victims’ families have embarked upon a courageous battle against the airline industry and its lobbyists to institute new safety rules. Those rules, pushed through Congress by the Western New York delegation, are being adopted very reluctantly by the Federal Aviation Administration. The agency is expected to finalize the new rules, which call for more-comprehensive pilot training, Oct. 19. The agency has said implementing the rules will take an additional five years.
Flight 3407 was operated by Colgan Air, then part of Pinnacle Airlines, and flying under the Continental Connection banner. Continental, which has since merged with United Airlines, contracted with Colgan to operate the flight. But passengers likely did not know who was flying their plane when they booked tickets. Because of the crash, travel websites are now supposed to clearly state if a flight is being operated by a regional airline.
Meanwhile, the trial is expected to begin March 4 for the remaining federal lawsuits. As reported, 39 of the original 47 federal suits had been resolved, with many of them resulting in seven-figure settlements by the airlines.
Whatever the financial outcome of the trial, it’s clear that much information would not have come to light without it.
For example, Chief U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny’s pretrial rulings included a decision allowing two men critical of Colgan’s operations before and after the accident to be questioned by lawyers for the families. The discovery phase of the trial also revealed emails, documents and testimony suggesting that the pilot, Capt. Marvin D. Renslow, was not properly trained.
An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board identified pilot error as the cause of the accident. According to the emails, Renslow’s supervisors at Colgan had doubts about his training and qualifications only six months before the crash.
It is entirely possible that without a trial, such information would not have come to light. The flying public owes a debt of gratitude to the Families of Continental Flight 3407 for pushing through their pain to ensure safer skies, and to those who have pursued this trial.