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Thursday, June 04, 2009

Why do we hate/ignore the whistleblower? 

Colgan Air is a regional partner of Continental Airlines

It is a long standing phenomenon that the Clarion Content has never really understood. Why does American culture loathe the whistleblower? And are we doomed to continue to fail to heed their warnings? Is it the old youthful prejudice against the tattletale? Is their something in our primordial collective psyche that detests the whistleblower for violating the sanctity of the Durkheimian community? Dear readers, feel free to weigh-in, because honestly, we don't get it.

Sadly the purpose of this article is to call attention to another egregious instance of America (in this case the Federal Aviation Administration) ignoring the whistleblower. This time it likely costs folks their lives. On February 12th of this year, Colgan Air Flight 3407 crashed in a wintry mix of light snow and fog about five miles short of the runway at Buffalo-Niagara International airport killing all forty-nine people on board and one on the ground.

As the investigation surrounding the crash has continued, a tragic shunting aside of the warnings of a FAA inspector have come to light. This was the inspector who one year earlier was assigned to monitor Colgan Air's addition to its fleet of the 74-seat Bombardier Dash 8 Q400. The same plane that crashed near Buffalo.

The FAA inspector reported that Colgan’s first three test flights for the Q400 were unsatisfactory. He also stated that he observed a candidate for upgrade to captain who exhibited “a lot” of problems during a test flight. Furthermore he noted frequent violations of “sterile cockpit” rules mandating that flight crews avoid unnecessary chatter during takeoff and approach to landing. Worse he saw a Colgan crew takeoff despite “patches on the de-ice boots of the left wing that were not airworthy,” and passengers on another flight were allowed to get on and off with the engines still turning. Finally, he also reported that Colgan pilots “botched” the three approaches they made at the airport in Charleston, W. Va., that they flew the Q400 faster than the manufacturer allowed and refused to report a broken radio for fear that it would delay other test flights.

He summed up his report on Colgan Air like this according The Buffalo News, “As a culture the problem starts all the way at the very top. You have young pilots coming in and the next thing you know they’re swapping seats with the engines turning.”

What did the FAA do in response? Whitewashed his complaints and transferred him to a desk job.

What did National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB) inspectors find during their investigation of the crash of Colgan Air flight 3407?

The flight recorder showed indeed that sterile cockpit rules were violated on Flight 3407's approach to landing. The NTSB found that pilots at Colgan didn’t as a group have the hard training and grounding that was in compliance with federal regulations. And that the egregious safety violations the FAA inspector observed over the year were systemic. The pilot at the controls of Flight 3407 only had 109 hours of flying time in the Q400.

The FAA inspector filed a whistleblower complaint about his transfer, which the Department of Transportation inspector general is now investigating. Unfortunately, that won't bring back any of the folks who paid for the anti-whistleblower bias with their lives.

Hardly sounds like the kind of thing that could have happened under the government of Bush-Cheney. Because we all know they never forced government agencies to change the results of their reports or data to comply with their pre-conceived notions. They were and are paragons of intellectual honesty. (Just like Clinton never spun the truth or cheated on his wife.)

Read more here in The Buffalo News.

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