Pilot's Training Under Scrutiny in Buffalo Plane CrashFeb 19, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP
Federal investigators analyzing the events leading up to the Buffalo, New York plane crash that killed 50 people last week are now looking at pilot training and the pilot’s responses in his final moments. Fox News said that investigators are specifically checking into Colgan Air Inc.’s pilot training. Colgan is the operator of the turboprop plane, a twin-engine Bombardier Q400, that fatally crashed into a home last week.
According to investigators, said FoxNews, the plane likely dropped to an unsafe slow speed, losing critical lift in its final landing approach. The onboard stall-warning systems both alerted the pilot and automatically activated the "stick pusher," a device in which the control column is pushed forward to angle the plane’s nose down to regain speed, reported FoxNews. It was at this moment that pilot error might have occurred and when the pilot acted against established protocols. Such protocols call for pushing forward and lowering the nose to escape a stall. Instead, said FoxNews, the pilot pulled back on the controls and added power, moves that resulted in the flight’s fatal end. The issue of icing does still remain a consideration in the crash, said FoxNews.
Buffalo News also reported that, according sources it spoke with who are familiar with the investigation, as the plane descended, the automatic stall warning sounded, which might have prompted the pilot to increase power in an attempt to raise the nose; however, the correct response would be to push the nose down to increase speed. By attempting to raise the nose and maintaining controls, the pilot might have slowed the plane to a dangerous level in which an aerodynamic stall would have been guaranteed.
The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) noted that investigators are looking at Colgan’s cockpit training specifically since evidence is pointing to an error in pilot commands. FoxNews noted that the crash in Buffalo was the second such crash in five years that has federal air-safety experts concerned about the efficacy of training programs, specifically stall evasion and escape maneuvers and at Pinnacle or its units. Colgan is a part of the Pinnacle organization. Also, according to a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) spokesman, investigators are trying to determine if the cockpit crew overreacted, said FoxNews, which confirmed that the NTSB said pilot commands might have initiated the failed dive.
The NTSB is also examining why Colgan's training programs do not allow pilots in simulator training to feel activation of the stick-pusher. The device and technology are meant to automatically engage for the purpose of stopping a plane from entering a stall condition by pointing the nose down to regain speed. Of concern to safety experts is that if pilots do not understand the technology or understand what it feels like when it is engaged—such as what could be provided, but is not, in simulator training—pilots might not respond correctly when the stick-pusher activates in and in-flight emergency, explained FoxNews.
The Journal noted that a Pinnacle commuter jet went out of control in 2004, both engines shut down, the jet crashed, and both pilots perished. It seems there were a variety of errors discovered in that fatal crash, including that the pilots fought the stick-pusher activation, said the WSJ. That crash got the attention of the NTSB, which criticized the airline’s pilot safety program and safety oversight, said the WSJ.