PBS's 'Frontline' Challenges Regional Airline Safety

On Tuesday night, The Public Broadcasting System (PBS) aired Flying Cheap, an investigative report on the regional airline industry. The broadcast is also available online at www.pbs.org. Focused on the crash of Continental Flight 3407, the report examines the airlines' regular practice of codesharing, in which a regional carrier (in this case, Colgan Air) partners with a major airline such as Continental to provide feeder service to and from smaller cities. Though the language in the contract portion of the ticket stipulates that codesharing could be in effect, the PBS report shows that most passengers are not aware of the difference. The broadcast includes an interview with the father of one of the victims of Flight 3407, who said, "She believed she had Continental pilots and Continental safety and Continental service, but, you know, we know differently today." The report further investigates issues of low pay, low experience levels and fatigue among regional airline pilots. Coupled with the expansive use of regional jets with their lower operating costs, the result is airlines' questionable safety standards aggravated by an increasingly competitive economic environment. The airlines argue that air travel is exceptionally safe, and getting safer. Critics claim that deregulation has gone too far, and new government standards are called for. Flying Cheap was coproduced by PBS Frontline and the American University School of Communication's Investigative Reporting Workshop.