Among the headlines: The flight's 24-year-old first officer, Rebecca Shaw, earned less than $17,000 in 2008, her first year on the job with Colgan Airlines, the Manassas, Va.-based carrier that flies regionally for Continental, US Airways, and United. (The company later said the pay figure was reported incorrectly during the hearings, and that Shaw actually made $23,900.) Her pay wasn't the only part of the crash narrative that raised warning flags for some. Testimony also described the captain's prior failings on inspection flights and Shaw's overnight "red-eye" commute to work.
Yet it was Shaw's situation that seemed the most gripping, raising these questions: With so many costs squeezed out of airlines in recent years, just how low can a cockpit salary go? And is the airline industry reaching the limits of an economic model that seems to have more in common with Wal-Mart than with a highly trained profession where safety must come before all else?