Alaska needs broad review of aviation safety, officials say

FILE - This Oct. 17, 2019, file photo, shows a commuter airplane that crashed near the airport in Unalaska, Alaska, killing a passenger. Alaska needs a comprehensive review effort to improve aviation safety because its aviation fatal and non fatal accident rates are far higher than the national average, the National Transportation Safety Board said Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020. (Jim Paulin via AP, File)

Alaska needs a comprehensive review effort to improve aviation safety because its aviation fatal and non fatal accident rates are far higher than the national average, the National Transportation Safety Board said Thursday.

The NTSB issued a safety recommendation to the Federal Aviation Administration calling for the formation of a group focused on safety to better review, rank and integrate Alaska’s unique aviation needs into the FAA safety enhancement process.

“We need to marshal the resources of the FAA to tackle aviation safety in Alaska in a comprehensive way,” said NTSB Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt in a prepared statement. “The status quo is, frankly, unacceptable.”

Alaska’s aviation accident rate was 2.35 times higher than the rest of the nation from 2008 to 2017, the NTSB said. The fatal accident rate in the Alaska was 1.34 times higher than the national average, according to NTSB statistics.

The FAA has initiatives to improve Alaska aviation safety but the “silo-like” nature of the FAA’s sprawling organization makes it difficult to develop a comprehensive plan for a state like Alaska, Sumwalt said.

The FAA in statement provided by spokesman Allen Kenitzer said the agency has a long history of promoting safety initiatives in Alaska and strongly supports bringing together stakeholders to identify safety risk areas and potential solutions.

“The FAA will carefully review the recommendation that the NTSB issued today,” the agency said.

The NTSB recommendation was prompted in part by a September meeting in Anchorage in which aviation groups discussed how flying safety could be improved.

The September discussion focused on aviation regulations that cover charter and business flights. Participants discussed improving pilot training and consistently managing weather risks but the challenges apply to all aviation operations, the NTSB said.

“All pilots must deal with Alaska’s challenging geography and weather,” Sumwalt said. “We need to give them all the tools and resources to do so safely.”

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