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Pioneer Editorial: Making regional air travel safer

People who fly want to know that form of transportation is as safe as it can be made -- both the equipment and the human resources. It becomes disgruntling, however, to learn that two different sets of standards may be a work in the country's commercial air travel.

Hearings last week in Washington, D.C., on the crash of Colgan Air's Pinnacle Flight 3407 near Buffalo, N.Y., which killed 50 people revealed a crew ill-trained and ill-prepared for the commercial flight. "Complacency to catastrophe in 20 seconds" is how a National Transportation Safety Board member testified, underscoring poor pilot training.

The regional air carrier incident raised a number of red flags. The pilot and co-pilot broke Federal Aviation Administration rules by chit-chatting when below 10,000 in adverse weather conditions, both may have been too tired to fly, the pilot allegedly lied on his application in not saying he'd flunked two previous check flights and the co-pilot, 24, may have lacked the necessary flight training.

The FAA, however, maintains that the standard of safety is the same, from the regional carriers to the major carriers, but why do there seem to be two sets of standards?

Regional airlines, which move passengers from the hinterlands to the major airline hubs for major destinations here and abroad, now account for up to half of the nation's flights, carrying 160 million passengers a year. Most cities in Minnesota, including Bemidji, are serviced by a regional carrier with flights taking passengers to the major airline hub at Minneapolis/St. Paul.

We need to know that boarding a plane here in Bemidji and flying to Minneapolis will be just as safe as the non-stop flight from Minneapolis to London.

U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said at the hearings that he intends to look into aviation safety, "especially as it relates to commuter airlines." While representatives of regional airlines maintain they hold strong standards, there seem obvious differences in experience, pay and training of flight crews between the large outfits and their smaller counterparts. The co-pilot in this case averaged only $16,000 a year. One survey shows pilot pay may range from $84,300 at a major carrier to $32,100 for the same experience at a regional carrier.

Dorgan is right -- an investigation is in order.

Whether it be there are two sets of standards in place or if the same set of standards isn't equally administered between both major or regional airline systems makes no difference -- the traveling public wants both systems equally safe.