Letter to Senators Rockefeller, Hutchison and DeMint Regarding Commercial Aviation Accidents, Pilot Experience and Pilot Compensation
On February 9, 2011, we issued a letter to Chairman Rockefeller and Ranking Member Hutchison of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation and to Ranking Member DeMint of the Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety, and Security regarding their request that we determine whether there is a direct relationship among commercial aviation accidents, pilot experience, and pilot compensation. This request was prompted by the fatal crash of Colgan flight 3407 in February 2009. The National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) investigation into the accident and subsequent congressional hearings highlighted, among other things, safety concerns about pilots with low levels of experience and pay.
Overall, we could not identify a direct relationship between accidents and pilot experience because pilots involved in accidents had varying ranges of flight hours. However, there were fewer accidents among pilots who had spent more flight time in the accident aircraft make and model. In addition, pilot performance was cited in 7 of the 10 major accidents that occurred over the last decade, including the Colgan accident. This indicates that factors beyond flight experience are also important, such as quality of training, professionalism, and mentoring. We also found only a weak relationship between pilot experience and compensation because pilots’ level of pay is usually based more on their seniority with the airline instead of their total flight time. Compensation levels also vary significantly depending on seat (i.e., captain or first officer) and aircraft type. Generally, the larger the aircraft, the higher the compensation. Based on the results of our independent analysis, we are not making any recommendations to FAA regarding the relationship among commercial aviation accidents, pilot experience, and pilot compensation.