NTSB calls for comprehensive aviation safety approach as Alaska crash rate tops national average

Published: Feb. 20, 2020 at 12:18 PM AKST
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The National Transportation Safety Board is calling for enhanced aviation safety measures in Alaska, where accident rates are much higher than the rest of the country.

"Unfortunately here in Alaska, and everybody is painfully aware of it, in the 135 or schedule 135 -- 135 is basically charter moving people from point A to point B for compensation -- we've seen a spike," said Chief of the NTSB Alaska Regional Office, Clint Johnson. "There's no ifs, no ands, no buts. Just last week we had unfortunately a fatal up in Bethel between Bethel and Kipnook."

NTSB Statistics show from 2008 to 2017 the total accident rate in Alaska was 2.35 times higher than the rest of the country.

For fatal accidents, the rate in the state was 1.34 times higher.

"Doing what we've been doing up to this point, and doing the exact same thing is really not an option anymore, so we're looking for different ways of solving this problem," said Johnson.

The NTSB is recommending the formation of a safety-focused working group to review, prioritize, and integrate Alaska's safety needs into the FAA's safety enhancement process.

"We're looking for the FAA to have a point person or a working group-- a champion if you will, made up of stakeholders to basically work with our operators up here, identify specific issues, and then be a working group to remedy those challenges," said Johnson.

NTSB leaders believe the proposed working group would help streamline a comprehensive plan to implement safety measures specific to Alaska's needs.

"We obviously use airplanes very very differently, by and large, up here it's our pickup truck," said Johnson. "Out in the bush Alaska, where there are no roads, that's our main method of transportation back and forth to the villages, Western Alaskans and so on. Topography -- lots of expansive areas and mountainous terrain. Southeast Alaska has inclement weather conditions that obviously play a part in accidents."

The safety recommendation partially stemmed from an NTSB round table discussion last September in Anchorage, where several Alaska aviation stakeholders discussed improvements to aviation safety.

"All of those things are on the table as far as enhanced training, infrastructure which means documented weather reporting facilities at airports so you can shoot the approach," said Johnson. "An IFR approach can't be shot unless there's certified weather at that location, or at that airport, that's one of the hurdles we're trying to get over. We're working with the FAA already on that, and they're very responsive to that as well and recognize that need."

The round table discussion mainly focused on Part 135 operations, which include business and charter flights, but some of the proposals would apply to all flight operations as well-- such as improvements to pilot training, and consistently managing weather risks.

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