WASHINGTON, June 4, 2009

FAA Inspector Warned Of Safety Issues



(AP)  A federal safety inspector assigned to the airline involved in an air crash that killed 50 people in upstate New York in February warned of safety problems at the airline a year before the accident.


An attorney for Federal Aviation Administration inspector Christopher Monteleon said he reported problems with the flight testing program at Colgan Air of Manassas, Virginia, for its newly acquired Bombardier Dash 8-Q400s in January 2008. That’s the same type of plane that crashed Feb. 12 near Buffalo Niagara International Airport.


Among the problems Monteleon reported were that the Colgan test pilot exceeded the permissible speed limit for the Dash 8 and had difficulty properly landing the plane.


Test pilots typically are an airline’s most skilled pilots and are expected to train other pilots on how to fly new aircraft.


After Colgan, a regional air carrier, complained to the FAA about Monteleon, his FAA supervisor reassigned him to desk work and ordered him to have no further contact with the airline, his attorney, Debra Katz, said.


When Monteleon continued to press for action on safety concerns at Colgan and what he alleged was a cozy relationship between the agency and the airline, he was transferred or reassigned three more times, Katz said.


In March, Monteleon had a confrontation with an FAA attorney and was placed on administrative leave by the agency, Katz said. Monteleon told The New York Times, which first reported on his complaints Wednesday, that agency officials accused him of menacing the attorney.


Katz said in a letter to FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt that it was Monteleon, 64, a former pilot and 40-year veteran of the aviation industry, who felt threatened.


Monteleon has filed a complaint with the federal Office of Special Counsel, which investigates whistleblower complaints, Katz said. He has also been interviewed by the Transportation Department’s Office of Inspector General, the agency’s internal watchdog, Katz added.


FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown declined to discuss personnel actions taken involving Monteleon. She said his complaints about safety violations at Colgan were investigated by a special FAA team, which found some record-keeping and other problems but no violations of safety regulations.


“The bottom line was they didn’t find any major regulatory issues,” Brown said.


A spokesman for Colgan didn’t return a phone call from The Associated Press late Wednesday.


Aviation safety consultant Jack Casey said that if Monteleon’s complaints about the testing of the Dash 8 are correct – especially if a pilot significantly exceeded the aircraft manufacturer’s specified speed for the plane – they are very serious.


“It’s not unusual that you have a few little teething problems (when testing a new plane), but what he’s describing goes way beyond that,” Casey said.