Category Archives: General Aviation

The Safety of ‘Part 135’ Flights—Why Should You Care?

Shaun Williams, Senior Aviation Accident Investigator, and Amy Terrone, Safety Advocate

Ever paid for a helicopter tour over a scenic spot, like the islands of Hawaii or the Grand Canyon? Ever needed an emergency medical flight to a hospital or known someone who has? Ever joined the company CEO on a chartered flight to visit a client, or pitched in with friends to charter an airplane as part of a hunting trip or wedding party?

Part 135 certificated flights—more specifically, commuter and on-demand operations—include a variety of aircraft types and segments, many subject to different requirements. Although Part 135 operations are generally very safe, what you may not know is that these operations aren’t required to have all the same safety systems as commercial airlines. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) doesn’t mandate all air medical service, air taxi, or on-demand flights to have safety management systems (SMSs), flight data recorders and systems, and some other key safety critical training practices required of passenger-carrying commercial operations (or “Part 121”).

Unfortunately, our recent accident investigations have highlighted this safety gap. We have investigated too many Part 135 accidents since 2000, resulting in dozens of fatalities, that may have been prevented if operators had implemented important safety processes, whether as a result of FAA regulations or their own initiative. Because of our concerns, the NTSB added “Improve the Safety of Part 135 Aircraft Flight Operations” to our Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements for 2019–2020.

The number of commercial flights this year has decreased dramatically due to the COVID‑19 pandemic, and there are indications that customers are turning to the Part 135 segment for some of their flying needs. This only increases our concern for the safety of these operations. According to a recent New York Times article, for example, many more travelers are considering Part 135 operations for leisure and business travel due to the limited availability of commercial flights as well as the desire to avoid crowded airports and airplanes.

So, what specific regulations are we asking the FAA to implement that are already required of commercial airliners but not of Part 135 operators? We want the FAA to:  

  • require SMSs—a formal, top-down, organization-wide approach to managing and tracking safety that also helps instill a strong safety culture in operations, and
  • require flight data monitoring programs (FDMs)—that is, use technology that records airplane flight data, then make adjustments based on operational data to improve safety going forward.

Although most executive-style Part 135 jets and turboprop aircraft chartered for business purposes are quite safe and even sometimes operate above and beyond what commercial airlines implement, we have seen a few cases in this segment in recent years that raise concern and prompted the bulk of our recommendations in this area. For example, in November 2015, we investigated an accident involving a chartered business jet, Execuflight flight 1526, that crashed into an apartment building on approach to the Akron Fulton International airport in Akron, Ohio. The flight was carrying seven employees of a Florida-based company, all of whom, as well as the captain and first officer, died. Fortunately, no one on the ground was injured. As an on‑demand flight, Execuflight flight 1526 was operating under Part 135 regulations. Our investigation revealed that the operator did not have a SMS or FDM program, either voluntarily or by regulation, that may have prevented the accident. As a result of this crash, we recommended that the FAA require that Part 135 operators like Execuflight have SMS and FDM programs, just as commercial airlines have had for years.

Image from November 2015 Execuflight crash on approach to the Akron Fulton International airport in Akron, Ohio.

Even if the FAA doesn’t require these programs, Part 135 operators should voluntarily adopt them, scalable to their operations, to ensure the highest level of safety for their aircraft and passengers. But, without regulatory requirements, some operators may not implement these safety policies to ensure that their flights are as safe as possible.

It’s important to remember that aviation in the United States is the safest form of transportation. As a customer, you can play a role in keeping it the safest and in improving the safety of on-demand operations. Before you book a flight, do a bit of research and ask a few questions. The following are a few examples of questions you might ask air charter operators directly or the broker if that’s who made your flight arrangements:

  • Does the operator hold its own FAA Air Carrier Certificate? Request copies.
  • Does the operator have a history of any accidents or recordable incidents?
  • Does the operator have an SMS program?
  • Does the operator use flight data recorders and FDM programs?
  • Does the operator belong to any safety organizations? Do these organizations audit or provide some sort of safety review for their members, which could possibly give an insight into their safety program?

You can visit the websites of organizations such as the Air Charter Safety Foundation and its sister organization, the National Air Transportation Association (NATA) for information on these types of operations. The NATA also fulfills the important role of educating the flying public about illegal charters, an increasing safety concern for the industry and for the NTSB.  The FAA also has a helpful website to identify safe air charter operations and how consumers can identify safe and unsafe operators. Illegal or unlicensed air charter operations—those who avoid FAA regulations and compromise safety for a buck or to meet a customer’s unrealistic demands—pose a serious safety hazard. You should look for charter operators who at least comply with current regulations—if not those that do more, such as have an SMS program in place—and reward them with your business.

By doing a little homework in advance, you can make an informed—and important—decision about boarding a Part 135 flight. You might also be making these flights safer for other passengers by making operators aware that their customers are watching and demanding safer operations.

General Aviation’s Silent Killer in the Sky

By Michelle Watters, MD, PhD, MPH

As the weather gets colder and using your aircraft’s cabin heater becomes more of a necessity than a luxury, there’s no better time to start thinking about a plan for handling carbon monoxide. Commonly called the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is best known as the cause of household poisonings from oil or gas furnaces, stoves, water heaters, or portable generators or fireplaces. For general aviation pilots, carbon monoxide exposure poses a particularly concerning threat because impairing levels can build quickly in an enclosed cabin, and even nonfatal levels can lead to tragic consequences in flight.

For example, in 2017, a private pilot was flying his newly purchased Varga 2150A airplane on a visual flight rules cross-country flight. After flying for about 80 minutes, the airplane suddenly entered a spiraling descent from cruise flight. Witnesses observed the airplane flying erratically at low altitude before it impacted an open field near Bowling Green, Ohio; they stated that the engine was running until impact. Toxicological testing of the pilot’s blood found 55% carbon monoxide saturation (toxic level is 20 percent).

Image from June 1, 2017, airplane crash near Bowling Green, OH

Carbon Monoxide and the Danger of Exposure

So, what is carbon monoxide and why is it dangerous? Carbon monoxide is a simple chemical formed from the incomplete combustion of carbon-containing compounds, such as aviation fuel. It’s odorless, tasteless, and colorless, so your senses don’t provide much of a warning if you’re exposed! (Although, if you do smell exhaust fumes, always assume they contain carbon monoxide.) Carbon monoxide is harmful to people because it competes with oxygen to bind to hemoglobin, an iron-containing protein in your red blood cells. Not only does it outcompete oxygen—which means there’s less oxygen circulating in your blood—but it prevents the blood from unloading oxygen to the tissues and vital organs that need it—including your brain.

What happens when you’re exposed? At low concentrations, symptoms of exposure are mild and vague, and include headache, nausea, and fatigue. You might think you’re just feeling a bit off that day. As the concentration of carbon monoxide in your blood increases, so does impairment, and you’ll start experiencing dizziness, confusion, and disorientation. For longer exposures or high enough concentration levels in your blood, symptoms can be incapacitating and include unconsciousness, coma, and even death.

In the case of the Varga pilot, exposure to carbon monoxide explains his loss of control—he likely suffered confusion, disorientation, and loss of consciousness. But how was he exposed to carbon monoxide in the first place? Examination of the Varga’s heat exchanger showed that the outside casing had either previously been repaired or had been originally constructed of metals with different properties. About half the casing was discolored and exhibited varying signs of corrosion. Small holes from corrosion were found in the casing material, which provided a means for carbon monoxide to enter the cockpit from the exhaust system.

Internal Combustion Engines and Carbon Monoxide Exposure

Wherever there’s an operating internal combustion engine, carbon monoxide is likely being produced. Many airplanes with internal combustion engines are heated by air warmed from circulating around the exhaust system using a heater shroud. As in the case of the Varga pilot, a defect or leak in the exhaust pipes or muffler can introduce carbon monoxide into the cockpit. Although piston engines produce the highest concentrations of carbon monoxide, exhaust from turbine engines can also cause carbon monoxide poisoning.

Our accident investigations show that there are one or two fatal or serious aircraft accidents each year in which carbon monoxide is a finding, contributing factor, or probable cause. Although these accidents are more prevalent in colder months, carbon-monoxide-related accidents happen throughout the year (for instance, the Varga accident occurred in June).

Maintenance and Inspection Issues

Maintenance logbooks indicated that the Varga’s most recent annual inspection was completed less than a month before the accident, and the logbooks didn’t contain any record of heat exchanger repair or replacement. The heat exchanger’s condition at the time of the accident indicates an insufficient annual inspection.

A Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) report found that inadequate maintenance and inspection has contributed to many carbon-monoxide–related accidents. Deficiencies included poor welds, unapproved modifications, and missed holes or cracks on visual inspection. The FAA also found that, for carbon-monoxide–related accidents involving mufflers, there was a strong relationship between the muffler’s lifespan and its failure—the mufflers in the majority of these accidents had more than 1,000 hours of use.

Preventing Carbon Monoxide Exposure

So, how do you prevent carbon monoxide exposure? The first key step is preventing exposure—make sure to routinely inspect your aircraft’s exhaust system and replace when warranted. During each 100‑hour or annual aircraft inspection, ensure your mechanic thoroughly inspects the exhaust systems, air ducting firewalls, and door and window seals. During preflight inspections, look for cracking at the ends of your muffler and evidence of soot, which might indicate cracking in the muffler. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for the lifetime limit on your muffler and schedule for replacement parts.

Even with best efforts, leaks may happen. Secondary prevention involves being alerted to the danger before it becomes a problem. Don’t rely solely on knowing the symptoms of carbon monoxide as your warning system—they’re not specific enough to be recognized as exposure before impairment sets in. You might have heard that your skin, lips, or fingernails turn red when you’re exposed to carbon monoxide, but discoloration only happens sometimes, and only at very high levels of exposure. If you do turn red, you’re probably already too impaired to realize it, and it’s probably too late to recover.

So how can you be alerted to dangerous levels of carbon monoxide? Just like for your home, multiple types of carbon monoxide detectors are available for your aircraft and can be placed on your instrument panel. Detectors that only change color when carbon monoxide reaches a certain level are undesirable. The color change may be subtle in some lighting, and these detectors require that you regularly scan the device. Also, color-change devices need to be replaced regularly, and their useful lives may be shortened by exposure to direct sunlight—there’s often no way to tell when they’ve stopped working. Detectors mounted on the instrument panel with audible alerts or flash notifications provide the best warning. The FAA report mentioned earlier in this article found that electrochemical sensors were most suitable for use in general aviation due to their relatively high accuracy, quick response time, and low power consumption.

The next thing to consider is what you’ll do if your carbon monoxide detector goes off, you feel symptoms, or you suspect carbon monoxide in your aircraft. Unlike other medical emergencies where your crew may be able to assist, carbon monoxide exposure affects everyone on your aircraft. Communicate with air traffic control immediately and tell them you suspect carbon monoxide leak and exposure. When flying to the nearest airfield, descend to the lowest safe altitude, as carbon monoxide binds hemoglobin more readily and strongly at higher altitudes. Turn off the heater. Maximally increase cabin fresh air ventilation, open windows if permissible. Consider supplemental oxygen if it’s safe to use. Once on the ground, seek medical attention and do not continue your flight until the aircraft is inspected and repaired.

The NTSB determined that the probable cause of the Varga aircraft accident was the pilot’s loss of control due to impairment from carbon monoxide poisoning. Contributing to the accident was the corrosion of the heat exchanger and the failure of maintenance personnel to adequately inspect and repair or replace the exchanger during the most recent annual inspection. These factors were all avoidable with a little extra care. Inspect your aircraft. Know the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, but don’t rely on them for warning. Install a carbon monoxide detector. Take immediate action.

Interested in more information?

You can learn more by viewing these NTSB and FAA resources:

EAA AirVenture is Off, but Our Focus on Summer Flying Safety Remains

By Aaron Sauer and Michael Folkerts, NTSB Air Safety Investigators

In normal times, many NTSB staff—including investigators and Board members—would be participating at the world’s largest general aviation (GA) event this week: Experimental Aircraft  Association’s (EAA’s) AirVenture 2020. The event is held annually in late July in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and features hundreds of seminars, presentations, and workshops—including many delivered by NTSB investigators—focused on safety and current flying trends. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the in-person event was canceled this year, and that means we aren’t able to share our NTSB safety messages in person with the throngs of AirVenture eventgoers. So, we’re turning to this platform to highlight some of the lessons learned and safety messages we planned to discuss at AirVenture 2020.

EAA ImageOne speaker slated to join us in a panel discussion was Mike Patey, the pilot of the famous “Draco,” a Pzl Okecie PZL104, that experienced a loss-of-control accident in Reno, Nevada. We determined the probable cause of the accident to be a failure to maintain bank control during takeoff in gusting crosswind conditions, resulting in a loss of control in flight and subsequent impact with terrain. Fortunately, Patey had built a very rugged airplane and took extraordinary steps to make a potential crash survivable, and neither he nor his two passengers were injured. We were pleased that Patey was willing to share his story during our panel discussion, and, even though that panel won’t be taking place, you can head to his YouTube channel to hear him share it. His accident serves as a reminder that, as we take to the air this summer, we need to ensure we’re prepared to mitigate loss-of-control scenarios, especially in the event of stall recovery.

Loss of control in flight in which weather is a key factor remains a significant safety concern for the GA flying community. This safety issue has been featured on the past three iterations of our Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements (MWL). To mitigate any potential loss-of-control incidents, GA pilots should ask themselves the following before taking to the air:

    • Have I thought about and trained for possible loss-of-control scenarios?
    • Am I proficient and up to date on all aspects of my airplane?
    • Am I aware of risks so I can avoid ending up in a loss-of-control situation?

Flight instructors should also ensure they practice stalls in a variety of scenarios with their students.

Another reason for loss of control involves distractions. Personal electronic devices in the cockpit have become a real and growing threat to safety. Eliminating distractions, not just in aviation, but in all transportation modes, is another issue on our current MWL. We know that pilots involved in GA operations are more susceptible to distraction-related accidents because they are subject to minimal federal regulations, such as the “sterile cockpit” rules seen in commercial airline operations. We believe that all pilots should keep distractions to a minimum, regardless of FAA requirements.

Mike Folkerts and Aaron Sauer talk with guest speaker and acrobatic pilot Patty Wagstaff
Mike Folkerts and Aaron Sauer at EAA AirVenture in 2019 talking to Patty Wagstaff, an NTSB panelist.

Although we could not participate in AirVenture this year to share our safety concerns in person, we urge all pilots to consider the following important safety tips to prevent in-flight loss of control and other avoidable tragedies:

    • Properly train and maintain currency in the aircraft you operate.
    • Maintain proficiency on how to avoid stalls and consider adopting available technologies that provide you with greater awareness, such as angle-of-attack indicators.
    • Take advantage of available commercial trainers, type clubs, and transition training opportunities, as they are an excellent way to improve your knowledge and abilities.
    • Don’t forget about the risks associated with unaddressed maintenance issues. Staying vigilant regarding your aircraft’s airworthiness could be the difference between life and death.
    • Safety restraints can make a difference in the event of an accident. Have your restraints examined by a mechanic or manufacturer to verify that they meet required specifications. Replace the restraint systems if the examination deems it necessary. If your airplane is not equipped with shoulder harnesses, install them if possible. (Note: “Strengthen Occupant Protection” is also an issue area on our current MWL).

We hope to see you at AirVenture next year! For more safety tips, check out our NTSB GA safety alerts here: https://www.ntsb.gov/safety/safety-alerts/Pages/default.aspx.

Returning to Travel with Safety on the Mind

By Nicholas Worrell, Chief, Office of Safety Advocacy

Normally this time of year, the transportation safety advocacy world would be buzzing with annual calendared campaigns, like these more well-known ones in the highway safety world:

• Global Youth Traffic Safety Month
• Motorcycle Awareness Month
• 100 Deadliest Days of Summer
• NHTSA’s “Click it or Ticket” seatbelt enforcement campaign

As the weather gets warmer, students learning to drive, fly or even operate a boat would gather for educational awareness-raising events or training seminars and conferences. Driver-educators and safety advocates would be working to pour their hearts and souls into reaching teen drivers on stages around the country, hoping to convince some to avoid the bad choices that would put them at higher risk of traffic crashes. Flight schools would be gearing up for the busy summer flying months, and the US Coast Guard and other organizations would be prepping for summer safety on our waterways.

But it is different this year. This year, the country is in large part sheltering in place because of a global public health pandemic.

In terms of traffic safety, the dark cloud might have a silver lining. The Los Angeles Times reports that crash incidences have reduced by half due to the virus; however, Streetsblog.org questions whether this silver lining in the form of reduced numbers of crashes will come with another dark cloud in the form of higher rates of crashes. We will have to wait for the statistics to be compiled a year or more from now to get a clearer picture. Although advocacy messages no longer reach students face-to-face, young people have less freedom—and reason—to drive. Will those two factors cancel each other out? Will drivers of all ages remember to drive sober and without distractions? Only time will tell.

General aviation continues to operate, though in a slightly more limited fashion, but we at the NTSB continue to investigate crashes. Boaters have not been out, due to shutdowns and weather, but with summer coming, things will change.

The big question I find myself pondering is, what will transportation safety look like once we are all able to move about freely again?

I like to think that Abraham Lincoln was right when he said that the best way to predict your future is to create it. I wonder about the new normal that we could strive to achieve in transportation safety on the other side of this pandemic. I also find myself worrying about re-emergence shock on the highways.

I recall from my time in the Marine Corps that when we’d return from duty on ship for an extended period without driving, traffic safety advocates would come on board to remind us what we would be facing returning home. That type of reminder would be helpful now after this long period of reduced driving. Have our skills gotten rusty? Will our road awareness be slow to return?

A potential benefit that could come from this pandemic, though, is that many of us have become much more mindful of how our behavior affects others. Will our mindfulness stay with us when we head back out on the roads, or jump back into our cockpits, or warm up our boats?

The present crisis knocked us out of our 24/7, “go-go-go” lifestyle suddenly and shockingly. Now, it is finally sinking in that returning to that normal will not happen soon or suddenly; rather, it will happen step by step. How can we rebuild transportation safety in our new normal? Tens of thousands of lives are lost on our roads every year. For too long, we have accepted this as normal. Perhaps this pandemic will wake us up to the fact that it does not have to be this way.

The step to transitioning back to our new normal will be to remember all the little safety lessons that might not have been front-of-mind these last few weeks or months. Returning to safe driving, flying, and other transportation operations will require renewed focus. To help us return to safe operations, the NTSB and other transportation organizations will launch the #SafetyReminder campaign with a Twitter chat @NTSB, May 21, 2020, at 12pm EDT.  You can join the conversation by mentioning @NTSB in your tweets to questions and comments or simply follow the conversation using #SafetyReminder.

SafetyReminder Announcement 1

I encourage you to follow the campaign and brush up on some of the things you may have forgotten before we all get back out on the road. When it comes to transportation safety, we really are all in this together.

Roundtable Discussion Yields Key Insights, Critical Actions Needed for Improving Safety of Part 135 Flight Operations in Alaska

By Chairman Robert Sumwalt

On September 6, in Anchorage, Alaska, I facilitated a first-of-a-kind roundtable of industry operators, government officials, educators, and aviation associations. Troubled by investigations into too many crashes involving Part 135 flight operations (which include air medical service, air taxi, air tours, charter, and on-demand flights) in Alaska, we called together some of the brightest experts across industry, academia, and government to help answer one question: How can we improve the safety of flight operations involving these aircraft?

We had some ideas on how to answer that question already; the issue is on our Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements. For example, we know that safety management systems (SMS), flight data monitoring (FDM), and controlled-flight-into-terrain (CFIT) training can help ensure that operators manage their planes and pilots in the safest possible way, reducing the chances of a crash. But we wanted to hear ideas from others—specifically those flying in Alaska, where Part 135 crashes are so prevalent—and urge operators and regulators to make some of the changes we believe will help.

Between January 2008 and June 2019, we investigated 204 fatal accidents in Alaska

fatal part 135 alaska accidents
Fatal Part 135 Alaska Accidents – Accident data from January 1, 2008 to August 12, 2019

involving fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters, scheduled and nonscheduled, in Part 135 operations. These accidents killed 80 people. At the roundtable, Dana Schulze, the NTSB’s Director of Aviation Safety, briefed us on the leading causes of Part 135 accidents in Alaska, reporting that nearly 80 percent of fatal accidents in Alaska are due to CFIT, loss of control in flight, midair collisions, and unintended instrument meteorological conditions.

Alaska has several challenges compared to the “lower 48,” such as unique terrain conditions, difficult weather, and congested airspace. That’s why we thought it important to talk specifically to those navigating this terrain. However, the deadly consequences of a crash are the same, regardless of where it occurs, and aviators across the country should be concerned with the issues we discussed at the roundtable.

I kicked off the roundtable of 29 experts, many of whom were operators, with a reminder that there is a business case for safety. I challenged the panel to come up with concrete solutions that we could collectively address. From the start, we agreed on one thing: the September 6 roundtable wouldn’t just be a conversation; it would be a call to action.

Chairman addresses panel about risk management
NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt talks with panelists about risk management during the September 6 roundtable on Alaska Part 135 Flight Operations

Our panelists discussed four key areas: training, risk management, technology, and infrastructure. We were pleased to see that many of their ideas related to these topics aligned with recommendations the NTSB has already issued, which are noted below. However, we welcome a discussion about any and all other potential improvement areas. Areas which the panelists agreed that they will evaluate further and perhaps pursue individually and collectively included:

Training

  • Cue-based (simulator) training has an impact on pilot decision-making and should be encouraged and required. Pilots taking CFIT training on a simulator performed significantly better on subsequent real-world flights than those who didn’t. (Note: the NTSB supports and has made recommendations to improve CFIT training for pilots).
  • To improve safety, operators must consider five safety principles: knowledgeable pilots, training, proficiency, reliable equipment, and culture.
  • The five things every operation must do are (1) realize it needs to change, (2) have a project champion, (3) create clearly defined standard operating procedures, (4) offer quality assurance systems, and (5) mentor/train employees.
  • We must do a better job of training the trainers.

As part of our training discussion, we talked about the recent closing of the Medallion Foundation, a flight safety advocacy organization in Alaska, and its impact on the industry. Medallion simulators will continue to be available to Alaska’s pilot community after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) determines where those simulators will be placed.

Risk Management

  • An SMS is important and worthwhile for improving safety, but it should be scalable

    Panelist Jens Hennig from GAMA with Corey Stephens FAA in background
    Panelists Jens Hennig, GAMA and Corey Stephens, FAA 

    depending on the size of the operator. Smaller operators may find it economically wise to outsource their safety assurance/FDM programs. (Note: As mentioned earlier in the blog, the NTSB has issued recommendations requiring SMS and FDM). One roundtable participant pointed out that there are 303 Part 135 operators in Alaska; of those, only eight are in the FAA’s SMS program.

  • Safety management requires the commitment of company leadership, but it’s just as important to involve pilots, mechanics, and management in the process so they recognize the value of an SMS, too.
  • An SMS should be a required prerequisite to participate in any federally funded programs, such as U.S. mail delivery and Medicare/Medicaid transport.
  • Useful data can be found in the FAA’s Aviation Safety Action Program. Carriers can benefit from the aggregated data collected in this information-sharing program.

Technology

  • Operators should equip their planes, either voluntarily or by requirement, with automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) technology, and the FAA should consider helping smaller operators fund such an improvement. In Alaska, ADS-B is only required in the Class C airspace above Ted Stevens International Airport, and above 18,000 feet. We discussed the FAA requiring ADS-B in high-risk airspace, such as around the village of Bethel.
  • Pilots and air traffic controllers need more ground-based station coverage in strategic locations.
  • A terrain alert warning system (TAWS) should be an aid, not a navigational tool. There’s a tendency for some operators to inhibit their TAWS because of its low-altitude nuisance alerts; this is a hazard that needs to be mitigated. (Note: the NTSB has made recommendations in this area).
  • Technologies such as digital cockpit, 406 emergency locator transmitters, FDM equipment, and flight-following equipment look promising and should be considered.
  • When it comes to weather management, a meteorological automatic weather station isn’t authorized as a weather tool, but flight service will provide it as a supplement upon request. Satellite programs are showing promise for predicting icing and cloudy conditions.

Infrastructure

  • We need to enable more flights to operate under instrument flight rules and improve visual flight rules (VFR) operations (weather camera stations). Alaska should consider establishing a common traffic advisory frequency division across the state.
  • ADS-B can help in remote locations. Special VFRs and letters of agreement would also be helpful.
  • Federal money should be committed to improving infrastructure. For example, the FAA could establish a Capstone II program in Alaska, but very small carriers will need help with funding.
  • We need more pilot information reports to validate radar returns and polar satellites, and to fill in the gaps of weather station coverage.
  • Operators and pilots should better use air traffic control services.

We at the NTSB are committed to doing our part to improve Part 135 safety. Currently, the FAA does not apply the same requirements to Part 135 operators as it does to Part 121 commercial airlines. We believe that, regardless of the purpose of flight, one thing is for sure: all flights should be safe. But we don’t have to wait for the FAA to regulate; we know that operators can—and should—make the appropriate changes.

Perhaps the most significant takeaway and critical action suggested at the roundtable—upon which the entire group agreed—was related to the need for one group, organization, or entity to focus on flight operation safety issues in Alaska. I agree. FAA Administrator Stephen Dickson has also indicated that this concept of a “single focal point” in Alaska may be worthwhile. It looks like the time to act is now.

We greatly appreciate all the experts who came to this event and participated in our vigorous discussion. We are convinced that this roundtable will lead to life-saving improvements in Alaska that will then serve as models for the rest of the world.

This event would not have been successful without the dedicated NTSB staff who worked tirelessly to plan and execute it, and the great participation of the panelists.

Thanks for all for the contributions!

For more details on this event, including participants and agenda, or to learn more about Part 135 safety, watch the event recording and see our event web page.