Is Alaska Flying Dangerous?

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.

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In 1980, the National Transportation Safety Board conducteda special study of air taxi operations in Alaska. The Safety Boardfound that for the study period, the rate of non-fatal air taxiaccidents in the state on the basis of hours flown was almostfive times higher than the national rate, and the fatal accidentrate was more than double the national rate. The Safety Boarddetermined that the higher rates were due to inadequate airportfacilities, insufficient ground navigational aids, and what itcall "the bush syndrome" — pilots taking unwarrantedrisks in order to complete a flight.

I have an hour or two of flying in Alaska behind me [more like17,000 —ed] and in my humble opinion, flying in Alaska isno more dangerous than down in the "lower 48."All it requires is a bit of judgment and common sense. But perhapsthat is too much to ask of certain kinds of people.

It’s a fact of nature that if you combine abnormally low intelligencewith 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 cannot be legislated. Yet these types of reports are usually theforbearer of new laws. The Part 135 operators in Alaska have alousy 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’ttake a grossly overloaded Beaver into a too-small lake. I wastold to do it or they would get somebody who would. I wouldn’t,and they did. The new pilot followed orders, and was dead fromthat very reason several months later. Took a number of passengerswith him. It was called an "accident". Sure.

I was also once dismissed from another Part 135 job because Iwouldn’t fly a 206 with one inoperative magneto. The guy theygot to take my place, a drunk from the next town, killed himselfa few months later. Ran into a mountain in good VFR. Didn’t haveto 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 Alaskais a friendly place to fly. I much prefer flying up there thanin the miserable, crowded, rule-infested Lower 48 with all itspaved airports and FAA and regulations that are far more concernedwith paper work and harassment than with encouraging the developmentof good judgment.

My, I’m in a grumpy mood. That always happens when some foolblames the Alaska terrain and weather for the accident rate, ratherthan placing it where it squarely belongs: on the fool in theleft seat (and his boss).