News reports immediately identified the aircraft that made a belly landing at Newark International Airport this past Saturday morning as a US Airways airplane. The flight was referred to as a US Airways flight. But buried somewhere in the news reports the next day, was the information that the aircraft was in fact operated by Piedmont Airlines, not USAirways.
What’s In A Name?
But Piedmont and US Airways are not the same airline. Not at all. While Piedmont is a wholly-owned subsidiary of US Airways’ holding company, the two airlines each have their own, separate FAA licenses to operate. One airline does not control the other and, in fact, any attempt at such control would be illegal under FAA rules. Each airline has its own manuals for operations, training and maintenance. The airlines fly completely different types of aircraft with US Airways, headquartered in Tempe, AZ, flying only jets, mostly large passenger jets, such as Airbus 319 and Boeing737 aircraft, and Piedmont, located in Salisbury, MD, flying exclusively DeHaviland DHC-8 turboprops.
The emergency landing in Newark, albeit without injuries, is a chilling reminder of the” Continental” Airlines flight that took off from Newark on February 9, 2009, and crashed just outside Buffalo, NY, killing 50 people, including one person of the ground. That flight ended up being a Continental flight in name only. In fact, that aircraft was operated by Colgan Airlines (which, coincidentally, was also a USAirways Express carrier). An NTSB investigation attributed the crash to pilot error but an investigative report by PBS Frontline, Flying Cheap, found many disturbing safety trends in the growth of regional airlines, such as Colgan. And the equally disturbing fact that most passengers are unaware that the major airline they think they’re flying is in reality not responsible for a single aspect of the operation or maintenance of that flight.