By Jim Tise, FAA
The FAA and its aviation stakeholders in Alaska are pressing ahead with a major, new initiative to enhance safety in “The Last Frontier.”
The FAA Alaska Aviation Safety Initiative (FAASI) addresses some of the underlying causes of the accident rate among scheduled and non-scheduled air charter operators and general aviation pilots. The initiative, implemented at the direction of FAA Administrator Steve Dickson, contains 11 recommendations, with implementation beginning in October 2021.
“Unfortunately, there have been a number of accidents in Alaska because of poor weather conditions, inadequate location-specific weather reporting, poor judgement by pilots, or unintentionally entering [instrument flight rules (IFR)] conditions,” said Kristi Warden, acting regional administrator for the FAA’s Alaskan Region.
Warden explained that the FAA administrator’s response to a National Transport Safety Board (NTSB) recommendation was to task the Alaskan regional administrator in October 2020 to develop a team to determine best practices and enhancements.
“Alaska depends on aviation more than any other state, and we are committed to doing everything possible to make flying safer,” said Dickson. “We teamed up with the flying community and together developed this comprehensive blueprint for our safety work going forward.”
After subject matter experts in the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization, Office of Airports, and Aviation Safety Organization reviewed and issued an interim report on all safety initiatives underway in Alaska, the FAA engaged a broad range of stakeholders during the summer of 2021, including air carriers, airport sponsors, the general aviation community, Alaska’s state transportation agency, the University of Alaska, and aviation associations such as the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and Alaska Airmen’s Association. The FAA received extensive feedback during a dozen two-hour meetings.
Warden said those sessions with the stakeholders were the most rewarding part of the effort so far. “Alaskan stakeholders were very frank. They were constructive, intelligent. They’re very savvy. This is their backyard. They’ve got a lot of energy. It was a very powerful experience,” she added.
The 11 FAASI recommendations were gleaned from those meetings. They are grouped in five main focus areas, the primary one being enhancing weather reporting capabilities throughout the state. The FAA plans to increase the number of automated weather observing systems, as well complete the research, development, and certification of a new technology called visual weather observation system.
FAA Testing New System to Increase Weather Information to Alaska Pilots
The program is also planned to expand weather camera system to other states.
Other safety enhancements were recommended in the areas of navigation technology and procedures, aeronautical charting, surveillance, and safety outreach.
FAASI exemplifies the FAA’s approach to aviation safety through extensive outreach to its stakeholders and by leveraging the expertise of its employees.
“One of the most important elements to stakeholder outreach are the solid, earned professional relationships FAA-ers have with stakeholders in Alaska,” said Warden.
“Alaska is a small town. We all know each other. We work together as regulators, as customers, as essential service providers. Our working relationship is based on trust and respect.”
“We are in a position now where we haven’t been because there is so much collaboration,” said Lee Ryan, president of Ryan Air, a long-established air cargo and charter operator in Alaska.
Ryan said the key to the success of FAASI is the need to view Alaska’s aviation environment as different from that of the lower 48 states because of its huge area, relatively sparse infrastructure, and often harsh flying conditions.
“If we reset ourselves, if we can get over that hump and look at it differently, this could be a huge initiative,” said Ryan.
FAASI can serve as an important stepping-off point for enhancing aviation safety in Alaska, said Richard McSpadden, senior vice president for the AOPA Air Safety Institute. “We can all have a shared understanding of the priorities and work in sync for meaningful impact.”
The FAA will develop a draft roadmap by early 2022, identify the resources necessary to implement it, and then seek stakeholder feedback on the roadmap. The FAA will continue those initiatives already underway and will begin to incorporate aspects of the new initiatives by summer 2022.
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