I am a big fan of propeller planes; the Bombardier Q400 sips fuel and flies low enough that its exhaust is not as harmful as the jets flying twice as high. In an earlier post (Perhaps Flying Turboprop isn't Dying) I noted that it is far more fuel efficient per person than a car and only slightly worse than a train. As I prepare to bike down to the airport and fly to New York on one, I have been considering the news coverage about the investigation into the crash of a Q400 near Buffalo in February. I like to call it a greener way to fly, but apparently the working conditions and pay make it anything but.
Let's not even talk about the pilot, who failed a check ride test five times. Let's look at the first officer, Rebecca Shaw. The 24 year old earned $16,200 per year, less than the minimum wage in Canada or the UK. She couldn't afford an apartment so she stayed with her parents in Seattle and deadheaded across the country before her flight. When she had to, she broke the rules and slept in the staff lounge. According to the Washington Post,
Shaw, 24, had a cross-country commute. She and her husband lived with her parents in Seattle. The day before the accident, she left Seattle on an overnight FedEx flight. She arrived in Newark at 6:30 a.m. after a changeover in Memphis. The board has said Shaw sent numerous text messages through the day, an indication that she wasn't getting adequate rest. After a delay because of wind, the flight left for Buffalo at 9:18 p.m.
Marvin Renslow, 47, arrived in Newark from Tampa three days before the flight. He was observed sleeping in the airline's crew lounge, a practice forbidden by the airline, according to the NTSB.
The board has said it has found no evidence that either had accommodations in Newark.
Kathryn O. Higgins, an NTSB board member, called the long-distance commuting, crew-room sleeping and other fatigue-related factors "a recipe for an accident and that's what we have here."
The article notes that full pilots get a lot less too:
Pilots who work for major carriers flying large jet planes earn about $125,000 a year on average. Colgan, which has about 430 pilots, said the average salary is $67,000 for the captain of one of its Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 planes, the turboprop jet involved in the Buffalo crash. The average pay for a co-pilot is $24,000.
Pilot jobs at the [regional] airlines are often considered entry-level jobs in the industry. [Colgan VP] Mitchel acknowledged that Colgan jobs were a "stepping stone" to higher-paying positions at bigger airlines.
If we are going to fly at all, it should be on the most efficient planes for the job, but people will not make a willing choice to fly slower and lower unless they know that flying green is as safe, with crews as competent, well rested and well paid.
More in the New York Times:
Pilots Set Up for Fatigue, Officials Say
Pilots Chatted in Moments Before Buffalo Crash
More on TreeHugger about Turboprop Aircraft
Turboprops Get Ecolabel
Perhaps Flying Turboprop Isn’t Dying
Efficient Modern Turboprop Aircraft are Making a Comeback