Alaska's Medallion Program To Shutter

 - August 29, 2019, 11:17 AM

The Medallion Foundation, which was established in 2001 to foster aviation safety in Alaska, is closing its doors, citing funding shortfalls and concerns that its programs are poised to create potential liability issues for participants. Funded largely through government grants originally thanks to the late Alaskan Sen. Ted Stevens, the Medallion Foundation hosts a range of safety programs for Alaska fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft operators and cruise ships.

One of its key aviation programs has been its voluntary Shield Program designed to help incorporate safety management systems and focus on key cornerstones, including controlled-flight-into-terrain avoidance, operational control, maintenance and ground services, safety culture, and internal evaluation. Medallion has also provided audits, an aviation safety action program, crew-resource management training, and a range of other training courses, including with simulators and trainers stationed throughout Alaska.

Executive director Jerry Rock confirmed plans to cease operations and sell or dispose of the simulators by September 15, saying, “The FAA continues to make reductions to our budget and use Medallion as more of an enforcement tool. The [board of directors] made a hard decision in choosing not to allow that to happen.”

Rock specifically said it received $300,000 less than was originally committed to funding. The cruise ship industry, which uses Medallion for safety audits and passenger video safety briefings, isn’t “happy” with the decision and said is looking at potential funding. But, he added, “We don’t have much time.”

Aside from funding, a key concern Rock cited was the FAA “for the first time ever is going to make Medallion report monthly any issues we find at our carriers. Thus, if they know of a problem, by law they must investigate.” Participating carriers hold themselves to higher standards, he said, adding, “If they are going to be accountable for issues during an audit that isn’t regulatory, it creates a liability.”

As far as safety issues, he pointed to the foundation’s “TapRoot” program that provides root-cause analysis and corrective actions to deal with those programs.

The decision to close down comes in advance of the NTSB's planned roundtable discussion on September 6 addressing Part 135 safety issues in Alaska. At the request of the board, Rock said, Medallion is not participating, but separately is submitting a letter to NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt.

“With accidents at a 10-year high, it’s not good Medallion is closing down,” Rock added.

Washington aviation safety and regulatory consultancy JDA Aviation was puzzled by the move. JDA Aviation’s Sandy Murdock, who formerly held senior roles at both the FAA and NBAA, questioned in a blog whether the Medallion’s concerns could be alleviated given the FAA’s national policy is no longer enforcement-oriented. But he also said Medallion had been an “unfair target” in recent articles locally for different crashes.