Crash Puts Focus on Air Safety
Senate Panel Plans Further Hearings

By Sholnn Freeman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 15, 2009

A U.S. Senate committee is planning to hold a series of hearings next month looking into the safety practices of commercial airlines, following revelations of a number of safety lapses from the crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407.

The announcement came on the final day of public hearings by the National Transportation Safety Board into the Feb. 12 crash near Buffalo, which killed 50 people. The crash was the first fatal commercial aviation accident in two years and has been described by the NTSB as the worst U.S. transportation accident in seven years.

In an interview yesterday, Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.), chairman of the Senate subcommittee that oversees aviation, said he was "stunned by what I've seen and heard on the evidence" from the safety board hearings.

"There are issues of training, crew rest, exam failures, acquaintance with icing," Dorgan said. "There are so many things that are troublesome. It calls for a real serious investigation."

Dorgan said he met yesterday with families of victims of Flight 3407. He said his committee's hearings will examine the safety practices of the regional airline industry, which has grown as major airlines contract out service to smaller cities. Colgan Air, which is the Manassas-based unit of Pinnacle Airlines, was operating the Buffalo flight as a regional partner of Continental Airlines. The hearing will also focus on the development of safety standards for the airlines by the Federal Aviation Administration.

"We've had a remarkably good record [in aviation safety]," Dorgan said. "But it's my understanding that those commercial airline crashes in recent years have overwhelmingly been commuter carriers."

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