Federal safety officials are calling on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to take sweeping measures to improve air safety in Alaska, where the rate of aviation accidents is significantly higher than the rest of the United States.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the independent government agency charged with investigating airplane crashes, is pressing the FAA to form a safety-focused working group that would “better review, prioritize, and integrate Alaska’s safety needs” into the framework of air safety regulations already in place.
“We need to marshal the resources of the FAA to tackle aviation safety in Alaska in a comprehensive way,” said NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt. “The status quo is, frankly, unacceptable.”
Between 2008 and 2017, the total aviation accident rate in Alaska was 2.35 times higher than it was in the rest of the U.S. The rate of aviation accidents resulting in deaths was 1.34 times higher than the national average, according to NTSB records.
Last year, there were 10 fatal plane crashes in Alaska, nine in 2018, eight in 2017, and 12 in 2016.
According to the Anchorage Daily News, NTSB data show that 5.4% of the 221 deadly U.S. airplane crashes in 2016 occurred in Alaska, a state with less than 1% of the U.S. population.
Aviation safety could be greatly improved if the FAA developed “a comprehensive plan for a state like Alaska, with its distinct set of challenges,” Mr. Sumwalt said.
An NTSB roundtable discussion in Anchorage last September focused on enhancing the safety of medical, charter, and air taxi flights in addition to other smaller commercial (Part 135) aircraft operations. The group proposed improved pilot training and consistently managing weather risks. The NTSB wants the FAA to apply the same improvements to all aviation operations in Alaska, where the general population relies on small aircraft more than that of any other state.
“Whether it is a Part 135 flight or a pleasure trip, all pilots must deal with Alaska’s challenging geography and weather,” Mr. Sumwalt said. “We need to give them all the tools and resources to do so safely.”
Improving the safety of Part 135 aviation operations is one of the items on the NTSB’s top 10 “Most Wanted” list of transportation safety improvements.
Mike Andrews, a lawyer in the firm’s Personal Injury and Products Liability section, focuses much of his practice on aviation accident litigation. He has represented people seriously injured in aviation crashes, and the families of those killed in both civilian and military airplane crashes and helicopter crashes. Currently, Mike represents family members of victims in the Ethiopian Airlines crash involving the Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft.
For more information about aviation litigation, Mike also has written a book for lawyers, Aviation Litigation & Accident Investigation, which discusses the complexities of aviation crash investigation and litigation. He provides basic instruction on investigating an accident, preserving evidence, insight into legal issues associated with aviation claims, and anecdotal instances of military and civilian crashes. The book is free for lawyers.