The Montana Standard, Martha Guidoni/AP
In this picture provided by Martha Guidoni via The Montana Standard, a fire burns
inside the Holy Cross Cemetery after a small, singe-engine plane crashed in an
area just south of the Bert Mooney Airport in Butte, Mont.

Has the Airline Industry Grown Complacent?

March 26, 2009 12:00 PM
by Sarah Amandolare
The plane crash in Montana is the latest in a series of aviation accidents. Experts say learning lessons from such accidents takes time.

Deciphering the Montana Plane Crash

A small plane carrying children and their parents en route to a ski trip crashed as it approached an airport in central Montana, marking the fourth crash to capture national attention in the past three months. Passengers are understandably worried and angry, but will flight anxieties be quelled any time soon?

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the plane originally took off from San Diego on March 21. It spent that night in Redlands, Calif., before flying to Oroville on Sunday, stopping in Vacaville on the way. The plane changed course from its original destination of Bozeman and redirected toward Butte at some point, but investigators have not said why. Investigator Kristi Dunks told the Chronicle, “"We don't have a lot of information at this time."
The Associated Press provided background information on the 14 victims of the Montana crash, which included seven children. Investigators plan to look into whether the single-engine plane was carrying too many passengers. Mark Rosenker, acting chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, indicated during a press conference that the plane was “likely designed to carry a total of 11 people, including two pilots,” the AP reported.
The crash comes in the wake of others, most notably the February crash in Buffalo, N.Y., of a Continental Connection flight that killed 50 people. According to CBS News, investigators in Buffalo tried “to determine if ice on the plane's wings caused the crash.” The Buffalo crash occurred only four months after the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) called for the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) “to revise its regulations concerning deicing turboprop airplanes, accusing the FAA of complacency,” CBS News reported.

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Background: FAA, NTSB and airline safety

But “experts say that although airlines are safer than ever, adopting the lessons from such disasters can be excruciatingly slow,” reported The New York Times. The NTSB “can only make recommendations,” which the FAA “sometimes takes years to respond to.” The painstaking process is a frustrating pill to swallow for families and friends of victims, and in some cases “the process is so slow that the F.A.A. persuades the airlines to solve problems outside the regulatory process.”

Jim Hall, former lead safety chairman of the NTSB, indicated to members of the press that “federal regulators should do much more to make sure icing won’t bring down more planes,” reported The Buffalo News.

Furthermore, said Hall, the Buffalo crash was beyond tragic because “it was foreseeable and likely preventable if not for the preference of profit over safety in some of the aviation industry and for the lax oversight of the Federal Aviation Administration in its failure to adequately address known safety risks related to icing,” according to The Buffalo News.

Related Topic: The Hudson River miracle landing

The deadly 1982 crash of an Air Florida plane into a Washington, D.C., bridge has changed the way pilots perform their jobs, and may have influenced the pilots who made the emergency water landing of a US Airways plane in the Hudson River last January.

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