The Colgan Air 3407 accident was a catastrophic tragedy that cost many lives. On 2 February 2009, a Colgani Air Inc., Bombardier DHC-8-400, N200WQ, that was flying to Buffalo-Niagara International Airport, Buffalo, New York, crashed into a residence in Clarence Center, New York (National Transport Safety Board [NTSB] 81). The airplane killed its two pilots, two flight attendants, 45 passengers, and one individual on the ground. Impact forces and a postcrash fire damaged the plane when it crashed (NTSB 81). Accordingly, an analysis of the cause of the accident can enable airlines to avoid such an event in the future.
From an ergonomics perspective, the accident was due to the pilots’ incompetence and fatigue, and also their insecure employment that forced them to work even when tired or sick. Colgan Airlines had a risky behavior of hiring young and incompetent pilots, whom it would quickly upgrade to senior positions like a captain (NTSB 65). Consequently, most of the airline’s pilots and captains, including the ones on the Colgan Air 3407 plane, did not have adequate skill or training to safely fly their airplanes.
Colgan Airlines also underpaid most of its pilots. Consequently, most of them were forced to sleep in crash pads, which were uncomfortable and far from airports. As a result, most of them were usually fatigued and not physically ready to fly airlines. This problem was aggravated by the company’s strict working policy. In fact, most of the pilots used to work up to 16 hours a day. Given that the flight recorder captured a few yawns in the conversation between the captain and the first pilot, it indicates that the two were extremely tired when flying (NTSB 272). Therefore, they were not fit to fly the airplane.
If the pilots were competent and alert, they would have used the airplanes hardware to prevent the accident. According to the black box, the incorrect inputs made by the captain the airplane exceeded its angle of attack (AOA) and caused the airflow over the wings to separate (NTSB 83). As a result, there an aerodynamic stall that made the left wing to roll at an angle of 45 degrees (NTSB 83). Subsequent wrong reactions made by the captain caused the airplane to oscillate several times before it finally crashed. The NTSB notes that the physical inspections of the airplane’s fuselage showed it experienced minimal degradation due to the ice accretion (83). Therefore, it could have operated at normal flight conditions without the risk of stalling (NTSB 83). Since the ice accretion did not affect the captain’s ability to control the airplane, the accident was due to his incompetence, which resulted in him entering inappropriate inputs when responding to the stick shaker (NTSB 84). The captain’s incompetence is also reaffirmed by his inability to realize that the AeroData landing performance data given by the first officer was wrong (NSB 82). An experienced captain would have expected higher landing performance figures, which would compensate for the icing condition.
To prevent accidents in future, airlines should provide their pilots with comfortable working conditions and adequate salaries to enable them to afford high-quality accommodation near airports. In addition, they must continuously train them on how to solve minor mishaps that can occur when flying. Finally, they must ensure that only competent pilots are allowed to fly their airplanes. In the Colgan Air 3407 case, the accident would not have occurred if the captain was competent enough to control the airplane.
National Transport Safety Board [NTSB]. “Loss of Control on Approach Colgan Air, Inc. Operating as Continental Connection Flight 3407 Bombardier DHC-8-400, N200WQ Clarence Center, New York February 12, 2009.” Accident Report NTSB/AAR-10/01 PB2010-910401, 2 February 2010, p. 1-299. Available from https://www.ntsb.gov/investigations/AccidentReports/Reports/AAR1001.pdf.