The debate surrounding the Colgan accident in Buffalo strikes at the core of how aviation safety has developed since the dawn of aviation. It also explains why so many are uncomfortable with the regulations that resulted and why it is so important to get beyond the political deadlock caused by Senator Chuck Schumer.
The normal regulatory process was completely bypassed in favor of Congressional mandates, contravening decades of safety practices that has achieved the safest aviation system in the world. Key to aviation safety is reliance on science, safety investigators and regulators, which that was missed with Colgan.
Between the beginning of aviation and the 1990s, aviation safety relied on forensic analysis of accidents and adopting new safety regulations to ensure the chain of events that caused those accidents didn’t happen again. During the 1990s, however, a series of accidents suggested this approach alone was not enough, leading to using big data to spot trends that dilute safety in order to break links in that chain before they conspire to cause an accident.
“That’s what bothers me about the new regulations,” said Carlos Bonilla, a partner in Airline Forecasts. “Congressional action in Colgan’s case appears to be an ill-conceived, bypassing of the nation’s two bodies charged with aviation safety, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).”
In fact, Congress blithely ignored warnings by both agencies the 1500-hour minimum requirement for pilots was the wrong thing to do.
“FAA’s Office of Accident Investigation said there was no relation between hours and accidents,” said Bonilla. “In its assessment of the rule, the FAA testified that simply raising the total number of flight hours required without consideration of the quality and nature of that time was an inappropriate metric. Such a metric is conspicuous by its absence on the NTSB’s Most-Wanted list of desired safety improvements.”