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Pilots Warn of Safety Lapses at Regional Airlines

A Beechcraft 1900D turboprop plane is featured in this photo from Gulfstream International Airlines's Web site. The FAA is proposing a $1.3 million fine against Gulfstream for allegedly violating multiple regulations.This is one of our editors’ picks from our ongoing roundup of Investigations Elsewhere.

As if there weren’t enough reasons to be wary about flying these days, Bloomberg News gives a disconcerting account today of safety concerns at regional airlines, which operate half of all scheduled passenger flights in the U.S.

Regional airlines usually team up with major airlines, offering cheap costs in exchange for the major airline’s name on its flights. But to keep those costs low, safety measures can fall by the wayside, according to pilots interviewed by Bloomberg. The last five commercial planes involved in fatal crashes in the U.S. were operated by regional airlines.

Bloomberg zeroes in on Gulfstream International Airlines (not related to the business jet manufacturer Gulfstream Aerospace Corp.), which has never had a fatal crash, but was hit with a proposed fine of $1.3 million in May for multiple violations.

Among the findings by Federal Aviation Administration inspectors:  Gulfstream used car parts in its planes and cleared planes to fly even after company employees repeatedly reported malfunctions. The company also operates a pilot training school, which pilots say has an unhealthy relationship with the airline. "We offer the fastest possible transition to the ‘Right Seat’ of a commercial airliner," the school says.

Gulfstream CEO David Hackett said all of the airline’s first officers meet FAA standards to fly a commercial airline. A company spokesman defended its safety precautions, and said it is appealing the FAA’s penalty.

Sen. Mark Begich, a member of the subcommittee on aviation, said that the FAA has failed to ensure that regional airlines are as safe as their major partners. Agency spokeswoman Alison Duquette said that one of its top priorities is making performance consistent across major and regional airlines. "We definitely acknowledge there needs to be a greater level of professionalism," she said of regional airlines.

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