Colgan Air Official Blames Ignorance on Pilot Records Act

You have to wonder if airline executives are being obtuse or evasive when testifying before the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

The latest example involves Mary Finnigan, VP of Administration at Colgan Air. The occasion was the NTSB’s 12-14 May public hearing on the Colgan flight 3407 fatal accident, in which Captain Marvin Renslow and First Officer Rebecca Shaw, recent new hires, failed to disclose blotches on their previous training records. Finnigan testified that she would like help from the NTSB to make it possible to obtain all training records.

Both pilots were killed when the airplane entered a stall and crashed 12 February (see Aviation Safety Journal, ‘Crash Investigation Reveals Gaps in Airline Safety System’).

Renslow had at least two failed check rides that Colgan Air was not aware of when it hired him, and Shaw had at least one.

“The captain would not have been hired if we knew of two unsatisfactory check rides,” Finnigan declared.

Why didn’t she know the full flight and training history of Renslow and Shaw when they submitted applications to Colgan Air? The simple answer is that neither pilot told the airline anything about less than stellar previous performance.

Finnigan said she was constrained by the Pilot Records Improvement Act (PRIA), which allows the airline to obtain records for the previous five years. Renslow’s problems were outside the five year window, and he kept quiet about them. Hence, when Colgan sought his records under PRIA, it got only the most recent records.

Finnigan said she’d appreciate help from the NTSB getting Congress to amend PRIA to extend coverage further into the past.

Wait a minute. Here’s a pilot applying to an airline. He can waive PRIA and authorize the airline to get everything. He can also submit all records himself. Failure to waive PRIA could result in an instant decision not to hire the applicant.

Reluctance to waive PRIA could be considered tantamount to evidence the applicant is hiding something. Non-waiver of PRIA should be considered grounds for rejecting the application for employment.

Other airlines insist that pilot applicants waive PRIA. The thought never seems to have occurred to Finnigan. At least, that was the gist of her testimony. To admit awareness of the practice at other airlines would be tantamount to conceding Colgan Air did not exercise due diligence in hiring Renslow.