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WSK on Pilot Banter, Training Records, & Crew Rest / Commuting

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WSJ on Pilot Banter, Training Records, & Crew Rest / Commuting

  • WSJ.com
  • MAY 12, 2009, 5:18 P.M. ET
"Transcript From Buffalo Crash Reveals Extensive Pilot Banter




By ANDY PASZTOR

The pilots of the Continental Connection turboprop that crashed in February near Buffalo, N.Y., rushed through mandatory checklists in a matter of seconds, but spent almost the entire 59-minute flight from Newark, N.J., bantering about personal issues, job goals and the hazards of ice accumulation during winter flying, according to the cockpit recorder transcript released Tuesday by federal investigators.
The transcript shows that the Colgan Air Inc. crew, Capt. Marvin Renslow and co-pilot Rebecca Shaw, violated mandatory safety rules by discussing extraneous topics during the descent to Buffalo, just before their twin-engine Bombardier Q400 aircraft slowed dangerously and went into an aerodynamic stall, killing 50 people.



Data released by the National Transportation Safety Board indicate that the stall wasn't triggered by ice accumulation, but rather by Capt. Renslow's pulling back on the controls and overpowering an automatic stall-protection system that was pushing the nose of the plane down in order to regain a safe flying speed.
The transcript of conversations reflects a breakdown in cockpit discipline as the pilots laughed and joked extensively about previous flying experiences, the rigors of commuting to work by air and their own shortcomings as aviators.
There was hardly any discussion, until the last few minutes, about the conditions of the flight they were operating. Immediately after completing required checklists, the pilots resumed extraneous discussions.
Icing was on the crew's mind approaching Buffalo in snow and mist. Starting four minutes before the crash, and just before rushing through the descent checklist, the crew talked about dramatic buildup of ice around the windshield. "Oh yeah, it's full of ice," the co-pilot said. The captain replied, "that's the most I've seen . . . in a long time." But instead of discussing their situation and agreeing on a plan of action in case of an emergency, the crew immediately switched to discussing personal anecdotes regarding icing.
Co-pilot Shaw, is quoted on the transcript reminiscing about how little experience she had with ice during her early training flying in the Southwest U.S. "I had more actual time (experiencing icing) on my first day" with Colgan "than I did in the 1,600 (flight) hours I had when I came here," she said, according to the transcript.
The co-pilot, who had been hired by Colgan less than a year before, went on to say: "I really wouldn't mind going through a winter in the Northeast before I have to upgrade to captain."
The training and behavior of the pilot and first officer in the crash, the worst in U.S. air crash in more than seven years, were prominent on the agenda of an unusual three-day safety hearing that started Tuesday.
For the journalists, industry officials and relatives of victims packed into the NTSB's auditorium, the transcripts of what the crew said -- and how distracted they appeared to be -- provided the most chilling part of the hearing.
Right after completing the cruise checklist above 10,000 feet, the crew launched into an extensive discussion of Capt. Renslow's previous experiences with engine troubles on Saab 340 turboprps. Then Ms. Shaw, the 24-year-old co-pilot who recently moved to Seattle but flew out of Newark, talked about her hopes of finding a job that would keep her closer to home. "I would do three nights a week and be home, I could have kids and raise a family," she said, according to the transcript.
Two minutes into a discussion of future earning hopes by each pilot, the captain spotted a plane and said, "You got traffic out there, it's coming left to right." The crew continued to discuss personal matters, including co-pilot Shaw's head congestion. It "might be easier on my ears," she is quoted on the transcript as saying, if the aircraft started descending sooner and more gradually toward the airport.
As the crew noticed the buildup of ice, the co-pilot acknowledged her fear of ice accumulation on flight surfaces, which can decrease lift. In the past, she said, "I would freak out (if) I would have seen this much ice; and thought, oh my gosh, we were going to crash," according to the transcript.
As the plane neared Buffalo and descended to below 2,300 feet, things deteriorated quickly for the crew. According to documents released at the hearing, the crew leveled off the aircraft and set the engines to idle in what seemed like a normal approach. Within three seconds after the landing gear went down, however, the engines were revved to maximum power.
It took only a total of about 20 seconds until the crew received a stall warning, the autopilot disconnected and the plane lost lift, rolled and slammed into the ground.
While the broad outlines of the last few minutes of the flight had been reported earlier, the first day of the hearing provided more information about the crew's actions in the cockpit. The data confirmed earlier reports that Capt. Renslow continued to pull back on the controls to raise the plane's nose during the entire seven seconds that the so-called stick-shaker was warning the crew about an impending stall. The normal reaction to such a warning is to lower the nose in order to gain speed.
Just after the cockpit microphone picked up the sounds of the engines increasing to full power, Capt Renslow exclaimed: "Jesus Christ."
Ms. Shaw, for her part, began doing what she could to save the plane. "I put the flaps up," she said. Eight seconds later, she asked the captain, "should the gear up?"
Capt. Renslow replied: "Gear up. Oh (expletive)."
From there, the cockpit microphone picked up an increase in noise from outside the plane.
Less than a second before impact, Capt. Renslow said: "We're down," followed by the sound of a thump.
The last words on the recording were those of Ms. Shaw. "We're (sound of scream).
The National Transportation Safety Board was holding hearings on safety issues that have arisen during its investigation a mere three months after the crash, rather than waiting the year or more that such investigations typically take to complete. A second hearing will be conducted when the investigation is complete.
Colgan Air, which operated the Continental Connection flight, said Monday that the plane's captain was fully qualified and had "all the training and experience" required to safely fly the twin-engine turboprop.
A spokesman for Colgan, a unit of Pinnacle Airlines Corp., also released information to counter assertions that an overly demanding work schedule may have impaired the captain's judgment.
Marvin Renslow, who was flying the plane that crashed had a "light enough schedule" the three previous days to provide "ample time for rest," according to the statement. Colgan said Capt. Renslow had "nearly 22 consecutive hours of time off before he reported for duty" the day of the accident, nearly three times the mandatory minimum rest period.
Getty ImagesFrom left, Tom Ratvasky of the NASA Glenn Research Center, Allan Paige of Bombardier, Jim Martin of Transport Canada and Don Stimson of the FAA are sworn in at the start of public hearings on the crash.



People close to the probe said Capt. Renslow had flunked numerous check rides as part of his training. A Wall Street Journal article on Monday reported that investigators believe that during the flight, which departed from Newark, N.J., he may have reacted in an improper way because he hadn't been adequately trained to use emergency equipment intended to prevent the Bombardier Q400 from going into a deadly stall.
In the wake of the crash, Colgan faces heightened regulatory scrutiny, including investigations by the Federal Aviation Administration, of potential crew-scheduling violations. Since the accident, FAA officials overseeing Colgan have issued at least 16 letters of investigation questioning the carrier's compliance with flight-time and duty-time regulations, according to people familiar with the details. The inquiries cover the period from November 2008 to March 2009.
Colgan spokesman Joe Williams has said the FAA is examining unusual instances when "pilots legally flew beyond daily, weekly or monthly" mandatory limits, but said, "We don't expect any enforcement actions."
Write to Andy Pasztor at andy.pasztor@wsj.com



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coogebeachhotel

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This guy should not have been flying period. Sounds like examiners picked up on lack of judgement and or skills.

Must have been on a lot of avoid lists
 

N1atEcon

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The survivors lawyers will be looking for some big numbers with audio like that.
 

Birdstrike

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This was all over the news this AM. Even Joe Scarborough on MSPMS was swept up in the building "outrage" and proclaiming that he wouldnt alllow his family on a regional carrier until the FAA "speaks to this." Will somebody please remind Joe that his chances of being killed driving home on the Jersey Turnpike were 100 times as great. He missed that part...
 

ACL65PILOT

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This crash will be studied for years. There is an error chain here that we ALL need to learn from.
 

BoilerUP

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Putting up flaps in the stall...................

And the captain hauled the yoke to his chest...both actions vital in the recovery procedure for a tail stall.

I'm no accident investigator, but it sure seems to me in the heat of the moment they failed to maintain airspeed (basic airmanship problem, which highly experienced airman are not occasionally immune to) and then reacted properly to the wrong cause of their situation.
 

Angus

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And the captain hauled the yoke to his chest...both actions vital in the recovery procedure for a tail stall.

I'm no accident investigator, but it sure seems to me in the heat of the moment they failed to maintain airspeed (basic airmanship problem, which highly experienced airman are not occasionally immune to) and then reacted properly to the wrong cause of their situation.

Even IF they were reacting to what they thought was a "tailplane" stall.... they added max power... so they even screwed up that recovery technique.
 

clippyrip

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I was more surprised that they went to idle power. Anytime I've acquired significant icing, my power settings are much greater just to keep normal airspeed for approach and landing or cruise for that matter.
 
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COpilot

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I was more surprised that they went to idle power. Anytime I've acquired significant icing, my power settings are much greater just to keep normal airspeed for approach and landing or cruise for that matter.

It won't matter what the power was at, it won't matter what kind of ice it had, it won't matter what this guy lied about, it won't matter what other mistakes were made.

What will matter is that "ah ha" pilots commute from out of base, we the FAA on recommendation of the NTSB can fix that.

FAR Rule #1 effective in near future. Every airline pilot will now be required to live within 2 hours driving time of base; period.

There no more fatuge from commuting. Managment will love it, the NTSB will look good, the FAA looks good, and action is taken as a result of this accident.

Anyone want to trade a house in NJ for one in FL?
 

MINIME

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It won't matter what the power was at, it won't matter what kind of ice it had, it won't matter what this guy lied about, it won't matter what other mistakes were made.

What will matter is that "ah ha" pilots commute from out of base, we the FAA on recommendation of the NTSB can fix that.

FAR Rule #1 effective in near future. Every airline pilot will now be required to live within 2 hours driving time of base; period.

There no more fatuge from commuting. Managment will love it, the NTSB will look good, the FAA looks good, and action is taken as a result of this accident.

Anyone want to trade a house in NJ for one in FL?

Boy I agree.

One thing that I think is worth mentioning, is the fact that a large number of airlines don't do real training, they do checking. I'm not excusing difficiencies that might have taken place in this event. Howerver, in the name of the mighty bottom dollar, the only real training most of us get, is while we are newhires and during upgrades.

In most cases while going into PCs, we are expected to perform without any fresh training whatsover. Yes, most of us survive these events. Some of us may even like it. But do you really learn anything new? Are you trying to learn, or are you merely trying to survive? I would argue that the latter applies to a big percentage of us.

Accidents have decreased over the years. It's not because we now have super pilots. It's because automation has improved and CRM has become a way of life. I'd argue that this two factors alone are the biggest reasons why our safety record has improved. Most of our training however has not evolved. AQP should be mandatory for every 121 operator. If you can't afford it, tough! If that's the case, you don't deserve to be in business.

But as usual, the FEDs will clamp down on pilots. They may make it more difficult for us to commute. They may make checkrides even harder. But they won't stop companies from over stressing crews. Nor will they make companies properly staff their airlines. In other words, business as usual.
 

gearupflapsup

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The sad truth of the these headlines is the public will never get to the the awful Pinnacle/Colgan safety culture.

If not for the pilots at these two places, safety would be non-existent.

The Pinnacle Detroit Base Manager has to be involved in this evil some way..........

:)
 

lionflyer

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It won't matter what the power was at, it won't matter what kind of ice it had, it won't matter what this guy lied about, it won't matter what other mistakes were made.

What will matter is that "ah ha" pilots commute from out of base, we the FAA on recommendation of the NTSB can fix that.

FAR Rule #1 effective in near future. Every airline pilot will now be required to live within 2 hours driving time of base; period.

There no more fatuge from commuting. Managment will love it, the NTSB will look good, the FAA looks good, and action is taken as a result of this accident.

Anyone want to trade a house in NJ for one in FL?

"All Airline pilots shall..." Define Airline Pilot.
"All pilots operating under this part (121) shall live within so many miles of thier domicile blah blah blah. If you wanna see some real mass attrition, go for it FAA. I left the airlines specifically because I got sick of playing musical domiciles and the crappy commute that went with it.
 

cybourg10

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It won't matter what the power was at, it won't matter what kind of ice it had, it won't matter what this guy lied about, it won't matter what other mistakes were made.

What will matter is that "ah ha" pilots commute from out of base, we the FAA on recommendation of the NTSB can fix that.

FAR Rule #1 effective in near future. Every airline pilot will now be required to live within 2 hours driving time of base; period.

There no more fatuge from commuting. Managment will love it, the NTSB will look good, the FAA looks good, and action is taken as a result of this accident.

Anyone want to trade a house in NJ for one in FL?

Even if that was the rule change how can they stop me from going on vacation with my travel benefits and coming back on a red eye the day before? This will never work, we can hop on a flight anytime and go anywhere we want and with that they can not make us stay home on our days off. I don't see how they can regulate it unless we don't have flight benefits anymore. I really don't think commuting is an issue here, what we need to push is higher training standards and higher flight time requirements to fly 121.
 

airtime42

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And the captain hauled the yoke to his chest...both actions vital in the recovery procedure for a tail stall.

I'm no accident investigator, but it sure seems to me in the heat of the moment they failed to maintain airspeed (basic airmanship problem, which highly experienced airman are not occasionally immune to) and then reacted properly to the wrong cause of their situation.

Well said

With that much ice buildup it sound like he assumed it was a tail stall. Through the actions he must have just recently watched the NASA video.
 

pilotyip

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"All Airline pilots shall..." Define Airline Pilot.
"All pilots operating under this part (121) shall live within so many miles of thier domicile blah blah blah. If you wanna see some real mass attrition, go for it FAA. I left the airlines specifically because I got sick of playing musical domiciles and the crappy commute that went with it.
Being legal has nothing with being rested. There is no way to ensure a pilot is rested if he is not on a daytime schedule. Having flown scheduled night air cargo for Emery back in the 70's there is no a way pilot lives at home for 4 days with his family on a day time schedule and then takes 3 days of night flight from JKF to DEN and back, with 4 stops and is anything but completely exhausted by the end of the first night. . I was always tried with a messed up sleep pattern, but I was 100% legal as approved by the FAR’s and my ALPA contract. As I stated forced company rest on the premises in bunk 25B will make it legal but not solve the problem. Pilot are often their own worst enemies when it comes to being rested.
 

lowtimedriver

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I was more surprised that they went to idle power. Anytime I've acquired significant icing, my power settings are much greater just to keep normal airspeed for approach and landing or cruise for that matter.

Hard to stay focused when you have a stiffy. No disrespect intended, but Renslow may have set an all time record for getting behind the aircraft.
 

eaglesview

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And the captain hauled the yoke to his chest...both actions vital in the recovery procedure for a tail stall.

I'm no accident investigator, but it sure seems to me in the heat of the moment they failed to maintain airspeed (basic airmanship problem, which highly experienced airman are not occasionally immune to) and then reacted properly to the wrong cause of their situation.

"Heat of the moment!!" That is the tragedy. Experience can be measured in your ability to never put yourself in a situation where you have to use extaordinary airmanship. (obviously an aircraft failure can put you in an extraordinary situation but that is not what I am talking about) That crew put themselves in that situation and then didn't have the skill / experience to get out of it. It is sickening that company allowed and in fact promotes that with their hiring practices. I am sure they are not alone. The sad part is if Colgan suffers a non recoverable financial lost CO will just go looking for the next lowest bidder.
 

8vATE

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You guys really think Renslow had his "head in the game"?

If he was concerned about the ice, he would have talked about it. He would have briefed his plan for a stick shaker (wing stall) and tailplane stalls. He would have been hand flying. He would not have been jammering away about how much he liked flying in Houston compared to the Northeast.

He strikes me as inexperienced and complacent. His F/O was extremely inexperienced, tired and sick! She had a FDX commute in that morning.

Look for more over reaction, knee jerk regulations in our future.
 
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