NTSB probes airline partnerships
A federal panel is examining whether regional airlines are being held to the same safety standards as their major carrier partners.
The National Transportation Safety Board is holding a two-day forum at its L'Enfant Plaza headquarters beginning Tuesday on "code sharing" agreements that allow major carriers to sell seats on flights operated by smaller carriers.
The agreements have proliferated since the 1990s. Regional airlines now account for half of domestic departures and a quarter of all passengers. They provide the only scheduled service to more than 400 communities.
A regional airline crash that killed 50 people in western New York last year drew attention to what critics say are two levels of safety -- a higher level at major carriers, a lower level at smaller carriers. Continental Connection Flight 3407 was operated by Colgan Air, a regional airline which was based in Manassas. (It has since relocated to Memphis).
The last six domestic airline crashes all involved regional airlines. Pilot performance has been cited as a factor in four of those, including the Buffalo crash.
Continental chief executive Jeffrey Smisek told a congressional hearing in June that his airline doesn't have the resources to oversee safety at all of its code-sharing partners. That responsibility, he said, belongs to the Federal Aviation Administration.
The crash near Buffalo in February 2009 spurred an effort to change pilot duty rules. The National Transportation Safety Board found that both pilots on the flight were probably suffering from fatigue, although that wasn't a direct cause of the crash.
-- Associated Press and staff reports
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