Friday, May 22, 2009

FAA Probes Trainer of Commuter Pilots

I've always been more than a little skeptical of Gulfstream International. For those that don't know they are a flight school and an airline. Those wishing to be pilots can pay Gulfstream an ungodly amount of money for training and then be "hired" as a First Officer getting paid an extremely substandard rate to fly commercial flights for Continental Connection. The "best" part of the deal is that Gulfstream International has pilots on furlough right now. So while furloughed pilots sit at home, other pilots are being "hired" to fly. This makes me sick to my stomach. For a while I have heard rumors of the airline pencil whipping the flight time logs of pilots to make them "legal" to fly. The pilots personal logbooks showed them ILLEGAL to fly. The pilots were forced to fly by the airline threatening them with their jobs if they refused.

Here is a photo of one of Gulfstreams Beech 1900s in Orlando. I took this photo back in January when my wife and visited Disney for a week.

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The Beech 1900 is a great plane. One of my students is flying one for an airline out of Denver.

An airline that has trained many of the nation's commuter pilots -- including the captain of the Continental Connection flight that crashed near Buffalo, N.Y., in February -- faces a possible $1.3 million government penalty for alleged crew scheduling and maintenance violations.

The Federal Aviation Administration accuses Gulfstream International Airlines Inc. of faulty record keeping and substandard aircraft maintenance. Congressional investigators, who conducted their own probe into the airline, allege the company falsified flight time records and forced crews to fly more hours than federal rules permit.

The carrier, and its affiliate, Gulfstream Training Academy, provided training and initial airline experience to Marvin Renslow, the captain of Continental Connection Flight 3407. Fifty people died in the Feb. 12 crash of the plane. The FAA has notified Gulfstream that it could face the penalty, giving Gulfstream 30 days to respond to the allegations, according to a filing Gulfstream made with the Securities and Exchange Commission earlier this month. After that period, the FAA will decide whether to assess the penalty.

Robert Brown, chief financial officer of Gulfstream International Group Inc., the parent company of both the airline and the training academy, said Thursday the company intends to submit evidence refuting the alleged FAA infractions. He said the company would offer additional information to demonstrate that no violations occurred. Mr. Brown declined further comment and referred questions to the company's chief executive, David Hackett, who didn't return calls.

Capt. Renslow had flunked a number of proficiency checks as a private pilot and while training at Gulfstream, and he failed at least one other flight test while he was at Colgan Air Inc., the airline that operated Flight 3407, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

Investigators say all of the plane's systems appeared to have been functioning well and that the crash was the result of pilot error. They are examining whether Capt. Renslow was adequately trained on emergency equipment installed to protect against an aerodynamic stall on the Bombardier Q400 turboprop plane, according to testimony.

Pilots in the two previous fatal U.S. commuter crashes -- both caused by pilot error -- also spent time at either Gulfstream International Airlines or Gulfstream's training operations, according to reports by the NTSB.

The FAA said Gulfstream Academy relinquished its certificate as an FAA-approved flight training school on May 12, the day the NTSB opened a public hearing on the Buffalo crash. Not having the certificate limits the type of training the academy can offer.

The proposed possible FAA penalty and other troubles confronting Gulfstream, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., reflect broader concerns about the safety of commuter airlines, which account for 51% of all commercial U.S. flights. Gulfstream International's shares Thursday were up 2.1% to close at $2.90 on the American Stock Exchange. The shares are up 93% for the year to date.

Major carriers increasingly rely on commuter airlines to ferry passengers to airline hubs from smaller cities. Regulators and federal safety experts are examining whether pilots at some of these commuter carriers receive sufficient training. They are scrutinizing whether independent training institutes such as Gulfstream Academy produce pilots with sufficient skill and experience to fly the growing number of turboprops and jets at these smaller airlines.

Some of the questions about Gulfstream go to the heart of another safety concern: pilot fatigue. Gulfstream, which primarily serves Florida and the Bahamas, and some routes through Cleveland, flies routes for Continental Airlines Inc., UAL Corp.'s United Airlines, and Delta Air Lines Inc.'s Northwest Airlines unit.

According to congressional investigators, the FAA's probe of Gulfstream Airlines was touched off last summer by pilots who claimed they had been fired or threatened after they raised safety concerns about flight schedules that exceeded the maximum number of hours allowed by federal regulations.

Some pilots claimed they had been punished for refusing to fly substandard aircraft, including planes allegedly dispatched in stormy weather with inoperative systems such as weather radar, according to congressional investigators. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, according to one of these investigators, began looking into the allegations after some of the pilots said their previous efforts to raise the issue with the FAA's office responsible for investigating so-called whistleblower complaints had stalled.

House investigators interviewed witnesses, who claim that Gulfstream engaged in systematic falsification of records to cover up flight schedules that exceeded maximum hours allowed under federal rules.

One retired Gulfstream official, according to a House investigator, alleged that when pilots were asked to fly trips which they believed would put them in violation of federal rules, airline schedulers routinely used a second set of flight-schedule books to hide the excess flight hours. The House committee raised the issue with the FAA last summer in response to pilots' concerns that their allegations had not been properly vetted by the FAA, according to congressional investigators.

In response to questions from The Wall Street Journal on Thursday, the FAA said the alleged crew overscheduling stemmed from a failure to accurately transfer data from manually generated aircraft logbook records to an electronic record-keeping system. "The discrepancies resulted in scheduling crew members in excess of daily and weekly flight-time limitations," according to an FAA release. An agency spokeswoman said, "We didn't find any evidence of deliberate action" to falsify records.

A June 2008 inspection, according to the FAA, revealed that "unapproved automotive air-conditioner compressors" were installed on certain aircraft between September 2006 and May 2008. The airline grounded the affected aircraft and replaced the suspect compressors with approved aviation parts.

In October 2004, a Pinnacle Airlines regional jet without passengers crashed outside of Jefferson City, Mo., after the two pilots flew too high, induced an aerodynamic stall and both engines flamed out. Both aviators were killed. The captain on that flight was a captain at Gulfstream Airlines from 2000 to 2002, and the first officer attended Gulfstream Academy in 2002, then flew as a first officer for Gulfstream Airlines, according to the NTSB.

In August 2006, 49 people died when a Comair regional jet took off from Lexington, Ky., on the wrong runway which was half the length of the one it was supposed to use. The first officer was the sole survivor. He joined Gulfstream Airlines in 1997 as a captain, then was a simulator instructor before joining Comair, a unit of Delta Air Lines, as a co-pilot.

Write to Andy Pasztor at and Susan Carey at


  1. Great! Isn't ATP now in a partnership program with them?

  2. [...] the issues raised in the following article would effect ATP and its partnership with Gulfstream. Thanks, [...]


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