The following editorial appeared in the Miami Herald on Thursday, May 14:

Until a commuter plane crashed near Buffalo, N.Y., in February, the U.S. airline industry had gone more than seven years without a major accident. If that impressive safety record lulled air travelers into a false sense of security, events unfolding this week should return them to reality. Fifty people perished in the Feb. 12 crash, 49 of them in the plane and one on the ground. The crash was preventable, and never should have happened.

Testimony at a National Transportation Safety Board hearing this week shows that neither the airline involved nor the Federal Aviation Administration was vigilant enough to carry out their most solemn responsibility: protecting passengers.

The three-day hearing concluded Thursday, but the testimony and evidence so far has uncovered a succession of mistakes and errors, all preventable and none of them excusable. The investigation raises fresh concerns about old problems, including improper training, pilot fatigue, inadequate pay and an appalling lack of discipline in the cockpit.

The lesson to take from the tragedy is an old one: Shortcuts invariably lead to tragedy.

On this flight, there were far too many shortcuts:


— Inadequate training. The pilot, Capt. Marvin Renslow, 57, flunked several competency tests and may have been inadequately trained for handling the Q400 turboprop in the emergency conditions he encountered. When the plane automatically went into a dive, which is done to gain speed and prevent stalling, the pilot apparently pulled the throttle back, the opposite of what pilots are taught to do.

— Pilot fatigue. Co-pilot Rebecca Shaw, 24, had taken a “redeye” overnight flight to New York from Seattle and may have been fatigued. Before takeoff, she complained of being congested.

— Cockpit discipline. Federal rules require that pilots focus and refrain from idle talk when flying below 10,000 feet. Minutes before the crash, Capt. Renslow and Shaw are recorded discussing their lack of certain flying experiences. “I’ve never seen icing conditions,” Shaw said. “I’ve never de-iced. I’ve never experienced any of that. I don’t want to have to experience that, and make those kinds of calls.”

— Inadequate pay. Shaw was paid at a rate of about $23 an hour, although her annual pay could have been increased by working extra hours. To save money, she lived with her parents in Seattle and commuted across the country to work. Renslow earned more, about $55,000 annually. He commuted to Newark from Tampa.

Neither the airline nor the FAA should be excused for the accident. When passengers board an airplane, they put their complete trust in airlines and the FAA doing their jobs right. In this case, both the airline and the FAA failed.

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