NTSB Calls For Comprehensive Approach To Alaska Aviation Safety

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The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has issued a safety recommendation urging the FAA to form a working group to “better review, prioritize and integrate” Alaska’s aviation safety needs into its safety enhancement process. The recommendation cited concerns that a lack of coordination and the “silo-like nature” of the FAA are impeding the development of a “comprehensive plan for implementing and maintaining various safety efforts in Alaska.” To address the issues, the board called for the FAA to work with Alaska aviation industry stakeholders to revise its process for enacting and supporting those safety efforts.

“We need to marshal the resources of the FAA to tackle aviation safety in Alaska in a comprehensive way,” said NTSB chairman Robert Sumwalt. “Whether it is a Part 135 flight or a pleasure trip, all pilots must deal with Alaska’s challenging geography and weather. We need to give them all the tools and resources to do so safely.”

The board says the recommendation (PDF) stems from a Part 135-focused roundtable discussion held with Alaska aviation stakeholders last September in Anchorage. According to NTSB data, the accident rate for Alaska from 2008 to 2017 was 2.35 times higher than for the rest of the U.S.

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5 COMMENTS

  1. After reading the “PDF” it sounds like the NTSB is trying to get the FAA to play “nice” with the Alaska operators. I visited Anchorage this past summer and the aviation museum there actually has a display on how the Washington DC government in the 1920’s came down with a heavy hand on operators and how well that was (not) received. Maybe if more of the Washington FAA bureaucrats (including the administrator) would spend more actual time in Alaska, not just a weekend visit, they might realize that a lot of lower 48 standards just won’t work in the unique environment that is Alaska.

    My wife and I did take an air tour of Denali from an operator in Talkeena in a turbine Otter and enjoyed every minute of that ride. The pilot was very professional, not doing any hard turns or “g” loading or any other abrupt maneuvering. The trip had been originally included a climb over the top of Mt Denali and a landing on a glacier. We had to take a different trip due to weather making the previously mentioned items not possible. Hopefully the actions of this operator rubs off on others there so the accident numbers in Alaska do go down.

  2. After dealing with the FAA for four years on rouge airport management under Grant Obligations I have zero faith in them for anything. Rather than actually getting off their butts and putting eyeballs on things they sit cozy behind desks and accept scat fed to them by Airport Managers and Operators. If they simply got on an airplane, it is after all the Federal Aviation Administration, and inspected things for themselves it would serve safety and the interests of the tax payers a lot better.

    When I lived in Alaska it was obvious that flying there is as different from lower 48 flying as the moon is from earth. The NTSB urging FAA to do something will cost millions, take decades and do little of actual value.

  3. I got my license back in the early ’70s while on a “remote” USAF tour at Galena, a small village on the Yukon in central Alaska.

    Galena, having a WW-II era paved runway & VOR for year-round air access and reliable communication with the outside world via the military White Alice system, was the center of civilization between Fairbanks and Nome, but when you headed to any central Alaska village or destination outside VHF range it was strictly seat of the pants pilotage. Satellite based comm and navigation have changed all that, and in that respect flying in Alaska has become much safer.

    What hasn’t changed, though, is the weather, particularly in the coastal regions, and there really isn’t much more technology can do to solve that problem. The nature of local GA flying in Alaska dictates primary reliance will be on experience & eyeball, and it’s difficult to see how “improved” regulation is going to help that.

    • Actually, there is something more that has come out of the Alaska Capstone Program (GPS/Synthetic Vision Integration). The Air-Taxis are flying what I call ‘Low Level IFR’. That’s an easy way to explain to the concerned passengers when entering clouds with very big mountains all around. Also, WAAS provided Localizer Performance with Vertical guidance (LPV) gives the pilot a lower decision height on their approach.

      Each company has their routes pre-approved by the FAA and the minimum altitudes are established. Some of these routes have minimum enroute altitudes below 3,000 feet MSL. These lower altitudes allow for better enroute icing avoidance. When operating conventional IFR in short distances (say, less than 100 miles), performing high rate ascending and descending maneuvers to established MEA is not efficient nor safe in many congested environments.

      This technology is a much safer way to fly around cities in the fog without ‘ANY’ “scud running”. I see the future of UAVs and VTOLs requiring this technology with a 5G internet connection integration. Don’t have the slightest idea why journalist don’t want to report on this actual in use technology instead of the EVTOL unicorns, especially since this is so required for the unicorn’s existence. It will definitely answer many air traffic questions that have come up regularly in the comments.