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Fri, Feb 20, 2009

Colgan Air Defends Training Procedures In Response To News Reports

Pilot Error, ILS Problems Among New Theories In Flight 3407 Downing

Following revelations by the National Transportation Safety Board about the last few seconds of Continental Connection Flight 3407's failed instrument approach into Buffalo last week, Colgan Air is defending the training and experience of the accident pilot, Capt. Marvin Renslow.

The Associated Press reports Colgan Air, the subsidiary of Pinnacle Airlines operating the flight, issued a statement Wednesday declaring the airline's crew training programs "meet or exceed the regulatory requirements for all major airlines.

"Colgan has instilled a systemic culture of safety throughout our organization that is rooted in significant investment in crew training, systems, leadership and equipment," the airline added.

Those comments came following news reports this week calling into question the actions of the Q400's flight crew in the final moments before the regional aircraft impacted a home in Clarence Center, NY, killing all 49 persons onboard the plane and one on the ground.

Early speculation has focused on the possibility icing contributed to the accident. In a story Wednesday titled "Pilot Action May Have Led To Crash," however, the Wall Street Journal -- citing unnamed sources said to be familiar with the NTSB's ongoing investigation -- reported data from the accident aircraft's flight data recorder shows Renslow pulled back on the yoke and throttled the engines up when the aircraft stalled, instead of pushing the nose forward to build speed.

The WSJ article also notes the relatively low amount of time -- said to be just over 100 hours -- Renslow had in the left seat of the Q400. A 3,379-hour Captain with Colgan, Renslow had just upgraded to the Q400 in December; First Officer Rebecca Shaw had lower cumulative hours, but 774 in type.

Some of the focus on potential pilot error was diverted Thursday, when reports surfaced Southwest Airlines issued an advisory to its pilots in the weeks before the Colgan crash that an earthen dam off the end of Runway 23 at Buffalo Niagara International Airport has been known to interfere with the ILS, in a way that could cause autopilots to command a sudden nose-up attitude... similar to what preliminary data suggests occurred onboard Flight 3407.

"Pilots who are preparing to configure and land have the potential to experience abrupt pitch up, slow airspeed, and approach to stall if conditions present themselves in a certain manner," the advisory reads. CNN reports Southwest reissued the warning February 11, one day before the Colgan crash.

As ANN reported last week, the Q400 impacted in the vicinity of the KLUMP Initial Approach Fix, 4.4 nautical miles from the threshold of Runway 23 at BUF. In the moments after the plane disappeared off radar, an air traffic controller asked other pilots in the area if they had noticed any discrepancies with the localizer, after a Delta jet in trail of the Colgan plane reported fluctuations at around 1,500 feet. No error indications with the localizer were noted by the tower.

Radar data shows the Colgan flight encountered problems within moments after the landing gear was extended, and the flight crew lowered the first 15 degrees of flaps. Southwest Airlines spokeswoman Linda Rutherford would not say whether any Southwest planes had encountered problems flying the ILS down to 23 at Buffalo.

The NTSB says it is aware of the report... but the Board has also noted that leaving the autopilot on during approach during significant icing went against both FAA recommendations and Colgan policy. The NTSB has been pressuring the FAA for years to make tuning off the autopilot mandatory in such conditions.

The NTSB's official report on probable cause is expected to take at least a year.

FMI: www.colganair.com, www.ntsb.gov

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