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NTSB Wants Commuter Aviation Standards Upgraded With AM-Samantha-Crash Bjt

September 30, 1986

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The National Transportation Safety Board, citing concerns raised in three separate fatal accidents, called Tuesday for increased pilot training, better government surveillance and new training and safety equipment for commuter airlines.

The NTSB said all three accidents, which took place between August 1985 and last March, occurred during attempted landings in poor weather and involved relatively inexperienced flight crews. In all, the accidents claimed 23 lives.

Two of the accidents - the crash of a Bar Harbor Airlines commuter near Auburn, Maine on Aug. 25, 1985, and a Henson Airlines Beech 99 in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia in Sept. 23, 1985 - were attributed to pilot errors in final reports approved Tuesday.

The Bar Harbor accident gained widespread attention because one of the eight people aboard was Samantha Smith, the Maine schoolgirl who wrote Soviet leaders in 1982 because of concerns about the potential of nuclear war. She later was invited to the Soviet Union and became a symbol of U.S.-Soviet goodwill.

The most recent accident cited by the NTSB occurred last March 13 when a twin-engine Simmons Airlines crashed during an attemped landing at Alpena, Mich., killing three people.

In all three accidents, ″training and pilot compentecy were issues,″ the safety board said in a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration, urging the agency to take steps to improve commuter pilot training.

The letter, which was made public after being unanimously approved by the board, also urged the FAA to step up agency monitoring of training at commuters airlines, approve a relatively low-cost flight simulator suited for commuter use and require that commuters with six or more seats have a ground proximity warning devices.

The three accidents raise questions about the quality of training, the lack of ground simulator equipment that commuter airlines can afford, and the experience of commuter pilots, the NTSB said. The accidents under investigation showed signs of poor cockpit coordination attributed largely to inexperience as well as an exceedingly noisy environment, it said.

″We see these accidents very indicative of the problems that exist in the commuter industry,″ said NTSB Chairman Jim Burnett.

Despite the board’s concerns, Burnett emphasized that overall safety among commuter airlines has improved in recent years.

But industry representatives acknowleged that getting experienced pilots and then training them has been a problem. Large air carriers have made a practice of raiding the commuters. And the commuters - unlike the large airlines that use ground simulators - usually must do their training in the air, using valuable aircraft time.

The NTSB called on the FAA to expedite its evaluation of less-sophisticated flight simulators that commuters could afford. Airlines say the expensive simulators now available are often too costly for a small carrier.

″How do you justify a $4 (million) or $5 million Beech 99 simulator when you only have seven or eight Beech 99 aircraft,″ said John Presburg, a vice president of Henson Airines.

The NTSB also wants ground proximity warning devices installed in commuter aircraft. Aircraft having 30 or more seats or smaller jet aircraft already require the devices, which warn a pilot when a plane gets too close to the ground.

Such devices, NTSB investigators said, likely would have prevented the commuter accidents in Maine, Virginia and Michigan.

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