As it happens, the PBS newsmagazine “Frontline” chose the one-year anniversary of the Buffalo crash to air its investigation . The report rewinds to the dawning of the deregulation era 30 years ago, then walks us back to the present day, methodically showing how the commuter business grew to 52 percent of all airline travel and how two inexperienced pilots were allowed in that Colgan cockpit.
A former Colgan pilot told “Frontline” he got promoted to captain with 500 hours of flight time, less than a third of what the majors require. Pilots are paid only when the cabin door closes, so they work 16-hour days for perhaps $21,000 a year. There’s no pay for canceled flights, so they take chances with stormy weather.
And when a plane goes down? Incredibly, the major airline that “incentivizes” (not my word) this risky behavior is shielded from liability. And the government? As Mary Schiavo, the FAA’s inspector general during the Clinton/Valujet years, puts it: “The FAA protects airlines.”
“Frontline’s” correspondent is Miles O’Brien, who was one of my favorite CNN anchors until he and the network’s entire science team were fired in 2008. Between the PBS exposure and likely tie-ins with NPR, O’Brien’s reporting will probably be seen and heard by more Americans than saw him on cable. PBS also will put the report online in perpetuity.
Will other networks follow? During a decade when the cost of gathering news plummeted, meaning that networks could do more with less, they have instead done less with less.
Everywhere you look, TV news is saving money. And as Miles O’Brien, Larry Doyle and thousands of other journalists might say in response: At what cost?