Board holds meeting in Alaska and issues Report
Generally recommends that FAA “marshal” resources for comprehensive action
Specifics: complete initiatives,
|WASHINGTON (Feb. 20, 2020) — The National Transportation Safety Board called Thursday for a comprehensive effort to improve aviation safety in Alaska, a region with a higher accident rate than the rest of the country.
The NTSB issued a safety recommendation to the Federal Aviation Administration seeking the formation of a safety-focused working group to better review, prioritize and integrate Alaska’s unique aviation safety needs into the FAA’s safety enhancement process.
“We need to marshal the resources of the FAA to tackle aviation safety in Alaska in a comprehensive way,” said NTSB Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt. “The status quo is, frankly, unacceptable.”
From 2008 to 2017 the total accident rate in Alaska was 2.35 times higher than for the rest of the United States. The fatal accident rate in the state was 1.34 times higher, according to NTSB statistics.
Sumwalt said while the FAA has a multitude of initiatives at different stages of implementation, the “silo-like” nature of the FAA’s sprawling organization makes it difficult to develop a comprehensive plan for a state like Alaska, with its distinct set of challenges.
The safety recommendation stems in part from an NTSB roundtable discussion last September in Anchorage, where Alaska aviation stakeholders discussed how aviation safety can be improved. Although the roundtable focused on Part 135 operations —which include business and charter flights — some of the proposals discussed, such as improving pilot training and consistently managing weather risks, are applicable to all aviation operations in Alaska.
“Whether it is a Part 135 flight or a pleasure trip, all pilots must deal with Alaska’s challenging geography and weather,” Sumwalt said. “We need to give them all the tools and resources to do so safely.”
The Chairman has posted his thesis on what is wrong with Alaskan Aviation Safety and the Reformation should begin. In the Board’s Safety Recommendation Report, the Recommendation” is quite broad and not very actionable:
Work with stakeholders that service the Alaska aviation industry to implement a safety-focused working group to review, prioritize, and integrate Alaska’s aviation safety needs into the FAA’s safety enhancement process. (A-20-11)
By parsing the three page about 1,500 word text, one is able to identify some of the specifics. The NTSB paper does not provide the prioritization or quantification associated with its ultimate safety tool, safety management systems. Here are some quotes which appear to be telling criticisms of the FAA in Alaska:
REPORT: p.1 …participants discussed studies and plans that had been started by various parts of the FAA’s organization or industry stakeholders to enhance the safety of Alaska aviation operations but had stalled. For example, the RTCA’s August 2017 report, Recommendations for the Performance Based Navigation (PBN) Route System, (which was completed at the FAA’s direction) contained 23 recommendations for improving Alaska flight operations.4 It wasn’t until 2019 that the FAA requested a feasibility study of the recommendations, which has since been delayed further.
THOUGHT: The FAA’s inability to manage its finances is not limited to Alaska. Congress sets programmatic mandates and then cuts budgets. The ATC Modernization process, now measured in decades, so suffered from this inconsistency that A4A campaigned mightily to extract ATC from the government. The FAA’s balancing of NextGen and Alaskan PBN likely has internal problems also. The “ACTION ITEM” for this fiscal problem is to have the Senate and House Alaskans ( Senators Murkowski and Sullivan, Representative Young) to protect their state aviation safety in the Appropriations and Authorizations bills.
REPORT: p.2 “One roundtable participant, a member of the FAA’s Navigation Programs senior management team, suggested that FAA staffing reorganizations in Alaska and a lack of coordination between FAA and industry safety initiatives were significant factors in the lack of progress in realizing safety enhancements from this study. “
p.3 …” The NTSB believes that a revised FAA process for implementing safety enhancements in Alaska could better ensure the Alaska aviation industry’s needs are appropriately considered and included in the broader GAJSC safety enhancement program. Thus, the NTSB concludes that the FAA’s failure to fully implement needed safety programs in Alaska has resulted in aviation safety issues in Alaska persisting…. coordination between FAA and industry safety initiatives were significant factors in the lack of progress in realizing safety enhancements from this study. Concerning a lack of coordination, the essence of several comments from roundtable participants was that the “silo”-like nature of the FAA’s organization often made it difficult to develop a comprehensive plan for implementing and maintaining various safety efforts in Alaska, including potential consequences and costs for other parts of the organization; a recurring theme was that a safety “focal point” within Alaska was needed
Earlier quote by Chairman Sumwalt: the “silo-like” nature of the FAA’s sprawling organization makes it difficult to develop a comprehensive plan for a state like Alaska, with its distinct set of challenges.
Supplemented by comments of Clint Johnson, NTSB Chief of the National Transportation Safety Board’s Alaska Regional Office, in Anchorage, Alaska in a news report:
“We’re looking for the FAA to have a point person or a working group— a champion if you will, made up of stakeholders to basically work with our operators up here, identify specific issues, and then be a working group to remedy those challenges,” said Johnson.
NTSB leaders believe the proposed working group would help streamline a comprehensive plan to implement safety measures specific to Alaska’s needs…
COMMENT: This line of critique is confusing. The FAA appoints individuals with exceptional intergovernmental skills to the position of Regional Administrator. The person listed for that job in Anchorage is Kerry B. Long. Before taking responsibility for executing Alaska’s needs within the FAA on issues and programs involving multiple FAA organizations and aviation disciplines (job description), Mr. Long worked with the NTSB as their Designated Agency Ethics Official, responsible for establishing, maintaining, and carrying out the NTSB ethics program. His previous assignment was the FAA Chief Counsel from 2007 to 2009. As Chief Counsel, he led 270 lawyers and staff and was responsible for all aspects of the agency’s legal workings, including its regulatory program, administrative and judicial litigation, nationwide enforcement activities, legislation, alternative dispute resolution, ethics compliance, and legal relations with foreign civil aviation authorities. That work entailed dealing with all of the FAA’s operating divisions and is strong training on how to make PBN studies happen. It is the least “silo-like” job within the FAA; for, every office was his client.
His resume should make him an able Ambassador for Alaska within the FAA and certainly made him knowledgeable as to how to work effectively with the NTSB.
REPORT: p2-3 “A possible remedy would be to adjust the FAA’s flight standards for Alaska to accommodate its unique aviation environment, which is a risk management decision requiring extensive knowledge of the environment; yet such an adjustment has yet to even be evaluated
The NTSB believes that a revised FAA process for implementing safety enhancements in Alaska could better ensure the Alaska aviation industry’s needs are appropriately considered and included in the broader GAJSC safety enhancement program. Thus, the NTSB concludes that the FAA’s failure to fully implement needed safety programs in Alaska has resulted in aviation safety issues in Alaska persisting. Therefore, the NTSB recommends that the FAA work with stakeholders that service the Alaska aviation industry to implement a safety-focused working group to review, prioritize, and integrate Alaska’s aviation safety needs into the FAA’s safety enhancement process.
COMMENT: The concept of adjusting standards to Alaska is theoretically possible, but highly improbable from an aviation safety perspective. In fact, the industry, Congress and senior FAA management have worked for years to achieve some level of standardization. After considerable dialogue and drafting, a policy was written, a board created and even an initiative to communicate these across-the-FAA standards internally and externally. Aside from this momentum, consider a pilot flying from the lower 28 entering the 49th and largest state would have to get a briefing on the Alaska standards.
If the NTSB comment is meant to infer that the Alaska aviation standards be elevated, then there needs be some clearer (SMS based) justification that the problem is that the existing FARs are not rigorous enough. The hypothesis as to this state’s remedial needs has been that the safety culture is not embedded in the AS pilot mental state. “Must go”, “I can handle the weather” and “I’ve done this in the past” are the all too common language of these pilots.
Perhaps, the Sumwalt Reformation should include a religious fervor within this unique populace. Preaching that past behavior is not acceptable might be the evangelical methodology for this new faith? As with any change, the process figuratively and literally starts from the ground up. The psyche of Alaska’s aviation community is a long standing tradition. Yes, the technical enhancements are vital and their implementation time critical, but greater navigational precision and better WX information are worthless when the airman has bad habits.
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