The NTSB says flying in Alaska is two to five times more dangerous than in the lower 48. Here's one veteran Alaska bush pilot's analysis.
August 1, 1995
|About the Author ...
Fred Potts is the author of the award-winning book F.E. Pott's
Guide to Bush Flying Concepts and Techniques for the Pro.
I heartily recommend this book to all pilots, even if you only fly spam cans
on paved runways! It'll change the way you fly.
Check out Fred's remarkable web site at
Parts of Fred's book are online on his site, as are some of his truly
exceptional collection of Alaska photographs.
In 1980, the National Transportation Safety Board conducted
a special study of air taxi operations in Alaska. The Safety Board
found that for the study period, the rate of non-fatal air taxi
accidents in the state on the basis of hours flown was almost
five times higher than the national rate, and the fatal accident
rate was more than double the national rate. The Safety Board
determined that the higher rates were due to inadequate airport
facilities, insufficient ground navigational aids, and what it
call "the bush syndrome" — pilots taking unwarranted
risks in order to complete a flight.
I have an hour or two of flying in Alaska behind me [more like
17,000 —ed] and in my humble opinion, flying in Alaska is
no more dangerous than down in the "lower 48."
All it requires is a bit of judgment and common sense. But perhaps
that is too much to ask of certain kinds of people.
It's a fact of nature that if you combine abnormally low intelligence
with abnormally high levels of testosterone, you will have problems.
Guns in the inner cities and airplanes in Alaska — same phenomenon.
Making new laws will not solve this problem, for judgment can
not be legislated. Yet these types of reports are usually the
forbearer of new laws. The Part 135 operators in Alaska have a
lousy reputation — one richly deserved —
but then they have a strong tendency to hire kids at bottom dollar
and force them (at penalty of losing their job) to fly in unsuitable
conditions, with junky equipment, and way over-gross.
I was once fired from a Part 135 job in Alaska because I wouldn't
take a grossly overloaded Beaver into a too-small lake. I was
told to do it or they would get somebody who would. I wouldn't,
and they did. The new pilot followed orders, and was dead from
that very reason several months later. Took a number of passengers
with him. It was called an "accident". Sure.
I was also once dismissed from another Part 135 job because I
wouldn't fly a 206 with one inoperative magneto. The guy they
got to take my place, a drunk from the next town, killed himself
a few months later. Ran into a mountain in good VFR. Didn't have
to embalm him — he had enough booze in him to do the job nicely.
That too was an "accident". Right.
I finally wised up, started my own business, and survived.
The higher accident rates aren't the fault of Alaska, for Alaska
is a friendly place to fly. I much prefer flying up there than
in the miserable, crowded, rule-infested Lower 48 with all its
paved airports and FAA and regulations that are far more concerned
with paper work and harassment than with encouraging the development
of good judgment.
My, I'm in a grumpy mood. That always happens when some fool
blames the Alaska terrain and weather for the accident rate, rather
than placing it where it squarely belongs: on the fool in the
left seat (and his boss).