Low Pay, Pilot Fatigue Linked to Doomed Buffalo Flight - NBC New York

Low Pay, Pilot Fatigue Linked to Doomed Buffalo Flight

The co-pilot made about $16,000 and was commuting cross-country



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    Firefighters spray water on a fire on Clarence Center Road involving an airplane and a home. (AP Photo/Harry Scull Jr -The Buffalo News)

    The co-pilot in an airline crash that killed 50 people in Buffalo was paid such a paltry amount that she was forced to live with her parents and commute cross-country to her job, air safety officials said today. 

    Rebecca Shaw, 24, was sleep deprived and paid about $16,254 a year, the National Transportation Safety Board revealed today -- the second day of hearings to probe the crash of Continental Connections Flight 3047 that killed 50 people on Feb. 12.

    Shaw's commute the night of the accident was especially difficult. It included an over-night flight from her home in Seattle and a transfer in Memphis in order to reach her base airport in Newark. She had sent text messages complaining she did not feel well, officials said.

    The low pay, lengthy commutes and lack of areas where pilots could rest added up to a risk to passengers, NTSB member Kitty Higgins said during the hearing. 

    "I think it's a recipe for an accident, and that's what we have here," Higgins said.

    A small air carrier, Virginia-based Colgan Air, was sub-contracted by Continental Airlines to run the regional flight from Newark to Buffalo the night of the crash.

    Colgan executives today defended their pay scale. Vice President Mary Finnigan told the NTSB that Colgan's pay is "within the industry standard."

    Asked if Colgan made cost-of-living adjustments to assist employees who reside in expensive areas such as New York, Harry Mitchel, Colgan's vice president of flight operations, said no such program exists for pilots. But, he said that Colgan has that policy for managers.

    The NTSB said Shaw had once held a second job in a coffee shop while working as a pilot for Colgan in Norfolk, Va.

    NTSB investigators said 93 of the 137 Colgan pilots who worked out of Newark at the time of the accident were commuting from far away, including 29 living more than 1,000 miles away.

    The flight's pilot, Capt. Marvin Renslow, commuted to Newark from Florida. Colgan officials said their captains typically earn around $55,000 a year.

    The NTSB hearing also revealed that Renslow had fabricated his flight record when he was hired by Colgan Air last year.

    The 47-year old "would've been immediately dismissed," had the airline known, Finnigan said.

    "If the pilot is a professional pilot, he should answer honestly," she said.

    A cockpit voice recorder transcript shows Renslow and Shaw engaging in chitchat about careers and her lack of experience flying in icy conditions during the plane's final minutes before crashing into a home, even after they had noticed a buildup of ice on the windshield and wings.

    Colgan officials acknowledged in response to board members' questions Tuesday that Renslow and Shaw weren't paying close attention to the plane's instruments and were surprised by a stall warning. Nor did they follow the airline's procedures for responding to a stall.