American Eagle (Envoy Air) N299JJ Embraer E175 | Credits: Sean Brink/Airways

MIAMI – It’s a difficult day for Envoy Air (MQ), American Airlines’ (AA) largest regional carrier.

Several news outlets, including CNN and The Hill, report that the FAA has issued a warning to MQ and is investigating the carrier over multiple instances of pilot error.

The CNN story says that it obtained a document from January that cites “consistent evidence showing potential lack of airmanship, and unsafe and poor piloting by multiple Envoy Air flight crews over the past two years.”

An Envoy Embraer ERJ-145 series. (Credits: Kochan Kleps/Airways)

Several Close Calls

Instances pointed out by include a flight during which pilots almost forgot to perform a mandatory checklist before takeoff. A warning from the aircraft’s computer alerted the crew to incorrect settings and mandated completing the checklist.

One other flight almost landed on a runway that was potentially too short.

CNN cites an incident from November 2019 in during which an Envoy flight slid off a snowy runway at ORD “in light snow with visibility of less than a mile, wind gusts of 30 miles per hour, and a temperature of 23 Fahrenheit.”

After the investigation, the FAA said that air traffic controllers were at fault for not providing updated weather information to the Envoy crew. It announced a US$1.6m fine against the Chicago Department of Aviation for “failing to ensure safe airline operations during snowy and wet runway conditions” that day.

But the report also found that crews from other flights had understood the poor conditions and had aborted their plans to land. “Perhaps more experience for this crew would have prevented this incident,” the FAA inspector wrote.

Steve Dickson, FAA Administrator, said in a CNN interview that the FAA’s probe is “based on data that we have been able to glean by working with the operator to identify where there might be areas of emerging risk that they need to focus on.” The goal, he said, is to ensure that Envoy Air is “not only compliant but operating safely.”

Envoy Air, owned by AA, connects smaller cities with its parent’s hubs. Per its website, its fleet consists of 76-seat Embraer E175s, Embraer 145s (50 seats), and Embraer 140s (44 seats). Pre-pandemic, it flew 185 American Eagle-branded aircraft on 1,000 daily flights to over 150 destinations in North America.

American Eagle (Envoy Air) Embraer ERJ-145 (Credits: Airways)

Working with the FAA

In a statement, Envoy spokeswoman Minnette Vélez-Conty told CNN that MQ is working with the FAA and pilots union to “to transparently and collaboratively examine the root cause of each potential issue and take any necessary corrective actions if needed. Nothing is more important than the safety of our customers and employees. If issues are raised, either internally by our team or by the FAA, we work to address them immediately.”

According to CNN, the FAA’s investigation is not looking into any actions of individual pilots or flight crews. It is, rather, looking into systemic problems that are leading to these outcomes.

“These events are representative of the more serious operational events that evidence poor airmanship trends, among other issues,” the FAA wrote to Envoy Air. “Collectively, these narratives point to issues that are deeper than what spot training or counseling have been able to resolve.”

Envoy says that many of the incidents identified in the FAA letter were identified by its in-house safety program. That program includes weekly meetings with the FAA. “We regularly share this data with the FAA to enhance the overall safety of our airline and the industry, and will continue to do so,” the airline said.

Photo: Envoy Air

ALPA Insight

CNN quotes the Airline Pilots Association (ALPA) as saying in a statement that safety practices in the industry have “proven an effective safeguard to detect any circumstances that could affect safety. The airline piloting profession in North America is one of the most highly scrutinized careers. Airline pilots’ professionalism has contributed to making air transportation the safest form of transport for passengers and air cargo shippers.”

The FAA is scrutinizing MQ, but other regional carriers may also be in play. “The FAA is cracking down on Envoy, but you wonder if the other regionals are facing similar problems,” said Peter Goelz, a former managing director at the National Transportation Safety Board and a CNN aviation analyst.