FAA Reviews Crew Flying Hours of New York Airline Crash

May 8, 2009

The Federal Aviation Administration is looking into whether some crew members of the airline whose flight crashed into a home in February, killing 50 people, recently flew more hours than generally allowed by federal limits.

The agency and the Manassas, Va.-based Colgan Air confirmed the review Wednesday, just days before the start of a federal hearing into the crash near Buffalo of a Continental Connection flight operated by Colgan.

However, Colgan Air spokesman Joe Williams said the FAA examination has nothing to do with the upcoming hearing by the National Transportation Safety Board, which has listed crew experience and “fatigue management” among safety issues to be examined as it tries to determine why Flight 3407 crashed late at night in light snow and icy conditions, killing all 49 people aboard the plane and a man in the house.

Rebecca Lynne Shaw, 24, of Maple Valley, Wash., was the plane’s first officer.

Williams said Colgan Air Inc. pilots “operate and are scheduled in full compliance with federal regulations” and file proper reports when they exceed their limits.

“As part of (a) routine FAA review of exception reports, the FAA is examining whether a few Colgan Air crew recently may have exceeded flight time limitations,” Williams said in a statement.

Exception reports, he explained, record situations in which pilots legally flew beyond daily, weekly or monthly flight time limitations because of weather delays or other conditions beyond their control.

The federal flight time limitations and rest requirements differ based on the number of pilots aboard planes and the types of flights. Airlines can be fined and pilots suspended for breaking the flight limitation rules without good reasons.

Colgan didn’t release its exception reports.

“While letters of investigation have been issued,” Colgan’s statement said, “we do not expect any enforcement actions against any of our pilots or the company.”

FAA spokesman Jim Peters confirmed that the agency is “looking at flight and duty time issues at Colgan Air.” He declined to elaborate.

Flight 3407 slammed onto a house in Clarence, about 5 miles short of Buffalo Niagara International Airport, on Feb. 13.

Flight data pointed to possible flight crew errors rather than ice accumulation as a key factor in the crash, aviation safety experts said weeks later.

The NTSB said information obtained from the craft’s data recorder showed the stall warning system had activated before the accident and there was some ice accumulation but no mechanical problems were found with the plane.

The NTSB in March scheduled an unusual three-day public hearing in Washington, for May 12-14, involving all five board members. The agency said the hearing will cover a range of safety issues, including the effect of icing on the airplane’s performance, cold weather operations, sterile cockpit rules, crew experience, fatigue management and stall recovery training.

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