Domestic Airlines in the 21st Century

A deregulated air transport system driven by consumer demand based primarily on price has emerged in the 21st century. It is a system that tends toward a low-cost approach as its first goal, and then tries to find ways to survive while provid­ing it. Airlines have not proven to be good invest­ments in an economically deregulated world. As of 2012, there is only one domestic airline that possesses investment grade credit, the minimum rating of BBB-, and that airline is the only airline that has been consistently profitable under the deregulated system. See Figure 35-29 for a com­parison of corporations and their credit ratings.

Airways flight 101, crashed in Miami, kill­ing 20. The NTSB cites Chalks’ inadequate maintenance program and the FAA’s failed oversight of the airline as probable causes.

• Aug. 27, 2006: Comair flight 5191, operat­ing under a code share as Delta Connection, crashed in Lexington, KY, killing 47 passen­gers and 2 crew members. One crew member survives. The final NTSB report cites pilot performance as the probable cause and non­relevant conversation by crews as a contrib­uting cause.

• Feb. 12, 2009: Continental flight 3407, a Col – gan Air-operated plane flying under a code share as Continental Connection, crashed out­side of Buffalo, N. Y., killing all 49 on board and 1 on the ground. NTSB cites the captain’s inappropriate response to a stall, unprofes­sional pilot behavior, and Colgan Air’s inade­quate procedures for flying in icing conditions as probable causes.

The last accident, Colgan Air flight 3407, was highly publicized in the news media and in aviation circles. The issues raised by this event concerned the adequacy of entry-level flight qualifications of pilots, the airline’s training stan­dards for all pilots, the acceptable level and qual­ity of crew rest, and pilots’ pay levels. The first officer of flight 3407, for instance, was paid a salary of $16,000 per year, lived with her parents in Seattle, Washington, and commuted to her home base at Newark by overnight deadhead­ing, at least partially due to financial constraints. It was said that she also had a part-time job in a coffee shop.

The airplane flown by Colgan Air was painted in Continental’s livery, including Conti­nental’s trademark globe on the tail, and only the fine print on the ticket gave any indication that this was not a Continental operation.

In February 2012, the FAA proposed to sub­stantially increase the qualification requirements for first officers consistent with a mandate in the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administra­tion Extension Act of 2010. The proposed rule is entitled “Pilot Certification and Qualification Requirements for Air Carrier Operations.” Among other things, this proposal would require an Air­line Transport Rating for first officers, completion of a new FAA-approved program for the ATP cer­tificate with enhanced training requirements, but contain allowances for reduced minimum flight time to qualify for the ATP rating under certain circumstances, including military training or a four-year baccalaureate degree program.

This rule seems to have stirred some contro­versy, with even the former FAA administrator Randy Babbitt on record as saying he does not think this is the best solution to the problem, cit­ing overall safety statistics. It must also be rec­ognized that the kind of flying that the regionals have to perform is not comparable with that of the mainline carriers. Regionals perform many more takeoffs and landings, thus more instru­ment approaches in IMC, fly at lower altitudes, use shorter and narrower runways at outlying air­ports, and often fly turboprop equipment.

Overall, according to the NTSB, from 2000 to 2009, it was more than twice as safe to fly as it was in the preceding decade, and more than seven times safer than in the 1970s. While these are impressive and reassuring statistics, unan­swered questions implicit in the foregoing illus­trations of regional practices remain.