NTSB Alaska Forum Spotlights Training, Infrastructure

 - September 9, 2019, 12:04 PM

Citing concerns that more than 200 Part 135 crashes in Alaska have collectively resulted in some 80 fatalities since 2008, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) chairman Robert Sumwalt on Friday stressed a need to improve training, risk management, use of technology, and aviation infrastructure in the state to improve overall safety. Sumwalt moderated a daylong session with more than two dozen industry, NTSB, and FAA officials to delve into those topics and develop solutions to reverse the Part 135 accident trends in the state. Pointing to statics that more than 80 percent of Alaska is not accessible by roads, Sumwalt said, “Not only is aviation essential to Alaska but so is Part 135. It’s essential to Alaska...We’re concerned about Part 135 safety in Alaska.”

He acknowledged that Alaska faces unique challenges with rugged terrain and often changing weather patterns, but added, “We cannot accept those factors as an excuse. Yes, Alaska is different in many aspects. But it is no different in terms of the consequences of a tragic plane crash.”

Dana Schulze, director of aviation safety for the NTSB, added that the Safety Board wants to spur collaborative discussions that dig into root causes and develop non-punitive solutions that can be adopted by all operations. “Everybody has limited resources and we recognize in the 135 community that all of the solutions need to be scalable for size and complexity of operations,” she said.

Statistics have shown controlled flight into terrain (CFIT), loss of control in flight, midair collision, and unintended encounter with IMC account for the majority of Part 135 fatal accidents in Alaska, she said. A deeper look into those causes reveal that CFIT training is inadequate and needs to be improved, Schulze noted. Also, she pointed to a need for operational monitoring through programs such as flight-data monitoring, as well as the implementation of safety management systems. These “will really help move the needle on safety,” she said.

Participants in the session called for better infrastructure and operational procedures that facilitate increased use of IFR. They also pushed for more weather monitoring and fuller use of ATC programs.

A key concern is that some organization steps forward to continue to pursue safety programs, particularly as the Medallion program takes steps to shutter. Medallion assisted with SMS for small organizations, organized the data-driven Aviation Safety Action Plan for operation, and provided simulator training. Its departure will leave a void in these key safety initiatives, participants feared.