WASHINGTON — The regional airline that operated a plane that crashed and killed 50 people in upstate New York has been pushing pilots to fly even if they say they are too sick or too tired, a union official told Congress on Wednesday.
John Prather, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, said regional airlines are continuing practices that jeopardize safety even in the wake of the Feb. 12 crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407. Revelations about the conduct of the pilots in that crash prompted widespread criticism of the training, pay and working conditions of pilots at smaller carriers.
Prather, an airline captain, cited Colgan Air Inc. of Manassas, Va., and its parent, Pinnacle Airlines Inc. of Memphis, Tenn., as well as Trans States Airlines of Bridgeton, Mo., in his testimony before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
Colgan operated Flight 3407 for Continental Airlines, supplying the plane and the pilots, while the larger airline handled ticketing.
"The managements at Pinnacle and Colgan have not changed their ways. The management at Trans States Airlines haven't changed their ways. Do I need to go further? I have a big book," Prather said.
"I've been asking our pilots to report the type of pressures that managements place upon them, threatening their job, giving them discipline ... not just for fatigue or sick calls," Prather said.
Among the "worst practices" identified by the union is punishing captains who report problems or maintenance issues with planes, Prather said.
Reporting a maintenance problem can lead to a plane being taken out of use.
"Some managements are still insisting that they are going to beat their pilots into submission," Prather said.
All three airlines denied Prather's allegations.
"The policies for both Pinnacle Airlines and Colgan Air are non-punitive and no jeopardy. Our policies are in line with other carriers, both mainline and regional. In fact, they allow pilots more freedom than policies at some mainline carriers," said Joe Williams, a spokesman for Pinnacle and Colgan.
"As for not writing up maintenance problems, that's a ridiculous charge and is contrary to our first priority, which is the safety of our passengers and crew," Williams said.
Trans States spokesman Fred Oxley said the carrier's policy is that there is no penalty for pilots who say they are too tired to fly.
"I don't know what Capt. Prather may be referring to," Oxley said. "If he has particular instances, we'd be happy to look at that, but on the surface of his comments I see no merit."
ALPA has recently been involved in contentious contract negotiations with Trans States.
Deliberate understaffing by regional airlines to save money has increased pressure on pilots to fly more hours and not to miss flights, Prather said.
All six of the last commercial airline crashes in which there were fatalities involved regional airlines.
An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board showed that the pilots of Flight 3407 made a series of critical errors as the plane was approached Buffalo Niagara International Airport at night in wet, freezing weather. The plane experienced an aerodynamic stall and plunged into a house below, killing all 49 people aboard and a man in the house.