The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is putting a spotlight on Part 135 operations in its newest Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements. This continues a theme that agency leaders have highlighted in recent months as they look at differences between the on-demand sector and Part 121 safety.
Improve the Safety of Part 135 Aircraft Flight Operations was one of 10 issues included in the 2019/2020 Most Wanted List that NTSB released yesterday and was the only issue that solely addressed aviation concerns. General aviation safety and/or loss-of-control, which had been included in a number of the lists over the past decade, was dropped from this latest list.
While Part 135 safety improvements were the sole item directly aimed at aviation in the latest Most Wanted list, many of the issues have cross-modal safety implications that included aviation. These were: eliminate distractions, end alcohol and other drug impairment, reduce fatigue-related accidents, and strengthen occupant protection. Sleep apnea screening further is on the list, but aviation is not included as one of the target modes.
As for Part 135 safety, the NTSB said, “Air tour, air medical service, air-taxi, charter, and on-demand flights are not required to meet the same safety requirements as commercial airlines, leaving them susceptible to disaster.”
The Safety Board expresses the belief that Part 135 must implement safety management systems (SMS) with a flight data monitoring (FDM) program and should have controlled-flight-into-terrain avoidance (CFIT) training programs. Most Part 135 operators do not have these programs, NTSB said.
“Despite the availability of SMS, FDM, and CFIT-avoidance programs, preventable crashes involving Part 135 aircraft are occurring all too frequently,” the NTSB said. It pointed to findings of lack of compliance in the Nov. 10, 2015, Hawker 700A crash in Akron, Ohio, as well as the lack of SMS, FDM and adequate CFIT training in the Oct. 2, 2016, Grand Caravan crash in Togiak, Alaska.
The NTSB has 21 open safety recommendations surrounding Part 135 operations, the agency said. “Operators must be proactive about safety; they should not wait for regulations or an accident to move them to action.” Operators that have already incorporated SMS, FDM, and CFIT programs are seeing “tremendous safety returns,” it added.
The addition of Part 135 safety follows recent discussions from key agency officials, including John DeLisi, director of the NTSB’s Office of Aviation Safety, who highlighted these issues during the most recent Bombardier Safety Standdown and said Part 121 has laid a roadmap for Part 135. NTSB chairman Robert Sumwalt reiterated this theme during his recent discussion at the National Air Transportation Association’s Aviation Leadership Conference. The subject further is on the agenda of the Air Charter Safety Foundation’s next symposium in March.