But don't let that cutie-pie face deceive you. Deborah Hersman is no delicate flower when it comes to fools or manipulators. In a letter to Pinnacle Airlines today, Ms. Hersman (ordinarily I'd call her Deb but I'm still in shock and awe. Give me a minute to recover.) demands that the company, parent of regional carrier Colgan Air, do what it failed to do during a near year-long investigation; surrender all records having to do with the training and qualifications of the crew of Colgan Air flight 3407.
To recap: Flight 3407, under a contract with Continental Airlines, was on a trip from Newark to Buffalo, New York in February 2009, when it crashed on approach to the airport after the captain responded inappropriately to a stick shaker warning. Forty-nine people on the plane and one person on the ground were killed.
It wasn't much of a secret to investigators that the captain, 47-year-old Marvin Renslow, was not a pilot in command of his game from the moment the cockpit voice recorder was played and his motor-mouth monologue could be heard. Sterile cockpit? Not for Renslow.
What was not clear until a New York lawyer made it public two weeks ago, is that at the highest levels of the airline, Renslow was tagged as not-ready-for-prime-time.
Hugh Russ, with Hodgson Russ, obtained the emails during discovery in the civil action against the airline on behalf of people who lost loved ones in the crash. You can read the emails here. In summary, the documents make it clear that six months before the crash, Renslow's promotion to captain was a source of concern to managers at Colgan.
In an crash investigation that from the start was about piloting and training, this internal discussion should have been made known to the investigators. But it was not.
Now do you understand why Ms. Hersman is furious?
Her letter, which you can read here, shows a steely determination that, despite the fact that probable cause has been determined, the fact-finding is not over.
What's with Colgan? Was it out of the country when Hersman removed American Airlines from an investigation of a runway excursion in December 2010? The airline downloaded the flight data recorder prior to sending it on to the NTSB recorders lab.
And where was Colgan when she scotched the participation of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association for speaking on the specifics of a mid-air collision over the Hudson River in August 2009? The safety board would have been in the thick of the flight 3407 investigation right about then.
Don't mess with Deb, that's all I'm saying, because she has little tolerance for folks who don't play by the rules. Government officials are often accused of being too cozy with the industries with which they work. The Congressional investigation and a review by the office of the inspector general of the Department of Transportation into the relationship between the FAA and Southwest Airlines, is just one example.
Deb Hersman is a lovely exception. As a taxpayer, I mean "lovely" figuratively, though really, the word applies however you want to use it.