Regional Airlines: Are Pilots Qualified? || Cross-post from JetWhine

I’d like to introduce you to another industry blogger I think you should know, Rob Mark from in Chicago. We’ve decided to begin a little cross-posting here at SimpliFlying and at Jetwhine.

A commercial pilot and journalist, Rob has been writing Jetwhine as the blog of “aviation buzz and bold opinion,” for two and a half years. He’s the CEO of CommAvia, a marketing and public relations company that focuses on the aviation industry. He’s a professional speaker on marketing and an adjunct faculty member at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.

His posts are never dull because you never need to try to figure out where he and his co-writer Scott Spangler stand on an issue. Here’s the first post. Enjoy.


The NTSB meets this week to ask the tough questions about February’s Dash 8 crash in Buffalo. They’ll be looking at icing effects on aircraft performance, cold weather operations, sterile cockpit rules, crew experience, fatigue management, and stall recovery training. The one that jumped out at me as an old regional airline pilot is the qualification issue.

A Jetwhine reader – Lou Smith from – recently sent me the transcript of Robert Sumwalt’s comments before the Regional Airline Association last fall in Washington. The gist of Sumwalt’s comments focused around whether the regional airline industry was and is doing all it can to maintain the one level of safety the FAA demanded many years ago when those regionals – then called commuters – were moved out of Part 135 to join the big guys in Part 121. Like Sumwalt, I don’t think regional airline pilots have quite made the leap to the safety level of major airline pilots, but based on their experience, not their abilities.

There has been a lot of talk since February about not just how the crew of the Dash 8 handled the ice, but whether or not they were seasoned enough to be flying in that weather in the first place. Sure to come up this week is not only that topic, but whether the regional airline industry has thought the crew qualification issue through, past the next flight that is.

Smith also sent me a BBC story that everyone should hear that asks how anyone in their right mind doesn’t see the correlation between the fatal injury rate on regional aircraft and the qualifications of the pilots flying them. You tell me whether or not you buy Regional Airline Association president Roger Cohen’s explanation of industry issues, especially when he was asked about the Flight Operations Quality Management System – a version of the Safety Management System business aviation is organizing – regional airlines have yet to implement, or the potential fatigue issues that surround the low pay for regional pilots. I didn’t.

Pretty scary when you learn that major airline pilots don’t want to use regional airplanes to commute to work when the weather is bad because they don’t trust the people in the cockpit.

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  • Oussama Salah

    Well at this time and age when SMS is the buzz word we revisit fundamentals like training, qualifications and fatigue in regional/commuter airlines. As far as I am concerened the responsibility lies, after the regionals themselves, with the Major Carriers that use them as part of their system. These majors have failed to ensure what they have promised their customers a seamless journey. Sea,less as far as I am concerned does not mean levels of comfort and service but also and more importantly levels of Safety and Security. If the Majors are required to audit their international alliance and code share partners, airlines which have usually better standards than the Majors, then they should do the same to their regional/commuter partners. The fact that we are discussing safety and training in the regionals shows how efectively the Majors have been discharging their responsibilities. I understand the need for the Majors to keep their cost down but that should not be at the expense of the travelling public

    • Shashank Nigam

      @Oussama: I’m totally with you on your assessment. When a passenger buys a ticket, he’s buying a Delta or Continental ticket, not a Comair one. Hence, not just brand consistency, but also operational consistency is required, and it’s the major carrier’s responsibility to do that.

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