Regional Airlines: Are Pilots Qualified?

By Robert Mark on May 10th, 2009


The NTSB meets this week to ask the tough questions about February’s Dash 8 crash in Buffalo. They’ll be looking at icing effects on aircraft performance, cold weather operations, sterile cockpit rules, crew experience, fatigue management, and stall recovery training. The one that jumped out at me as an old regional airline pilot is the qualification issue.

A Jetwhine reader – Lou Smith from – recently sent me the transcript of Robert Sumwalt’s comments before the Regional Airline Association last fall in Washington. The gist of Sumwalt’s comments focused around whether the regional airline industry was and is doing all it can to maintain the one level of safety the FAA demanded many years ago when those regionals – then called commuters – were moved out of Part 135 to join the big guys in Part 121. Like Sumwalt, I don’t think regional airline pilots have quite made the leap to the safety level of major airline pilots, but based on their experience, not their abilities.

There has been a lot of talk since February about not just how the crew of the Dash 8 handled the ice, but whether or not they were seasoned enough to be flying in that weather in the first place. Sure to come up this week is not only that topic, but whether the regional airline industry has thought the crew qualification issue through, past the next flight that is.

Smith also sent me a BBC story that everyone should hear that asks how anyone in their right mind doesn’t see the correlation between the fatal injury rate on regional aircraft and the qualifications of the pilots flying them. You tell me whether or not you buy Regional Airline Association president Roger Cohen’s explanation of industry issues, especially when he was asked about the Flight Operations Quality Management System – a version of the Safety Management System business aviation is organizing – regional airlines have yet to implement, or the potential fatigue issues that surround the low pay for regional pilots. I didn’t.

Pretty scary when you learn that major airline pilots don’t want to use regional airplanes to commute to work when the weather is bad because they don’t trust the people in the cockpit.


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5 Responses to “Regional Airlines: Are Pilots Qualified?”

  1. Kim Welch Says:

    You make only a passing reference to “airline pilots not wanting to commute on regional airlines”. That statement may be a little to encompassing, but it is certainly based in fact. I was party to a pilot union team which negotiated definite restrictions on the US airlines that our employer could use to move us from one location to another when deadhead transportation was necessary to crew a flight, or to get a pilot back to his home base.

  2. Robert Mark Says:

    I made only a passing reference because it came in as a tip.

    Was your company worried about the qualifications of the crew when they set up those restrictions?

  3. Kim Welch Says:

    If by “company”, you mean the management, then the answer is, “no”, they were not worried to my knowledge. The concern was on the part of the union negotiating on behalf of the pilots who would do the deadheading.

  4. Karl Says:

    I sent my major-airline-pilot friend an e-mail saying dad was flying the first leg of his recent trip on an A320, same aircraft she flies. Her reply says a lot:

    “From ORD to COS? That is one of the RJs ? Hope he gets there ok….”

  5. » Regional Airlines: Are Pilots Qualified? || Cross-post from JetWhine - SimpliFlying || Aviation :: Branding :: Technology || Airline marketing, airline brand management, social media, Web 2.0 Says:

    […] you never need to try to figure out where he and his co-writer Scott Spangler stand on an issue. Here’s the first post. […]

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