JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — A federal report aimed at improving aviation safety in Alaska recommends improvements in providing weather information to pilots and continued work to update maps with information on mountain passes, among other steps.
The Federal Aviation Administration, which released the report Thursday, said it will establish a team to outline plans for implementing the proposals. Several of the recommendations are already underway, the agency said.
The report comes after the National Transportation Safety Board in early 2020 called for a comprehensive review to improve aviation safety in Alaska, citing fatal and non-fatal accident rates far higher than the national average.
Board Chair Jennifer L. Homendy in a statement called the FAA report "a step forward in addressing Alaska’s unique place in aviation safety. But more needs to be done to ensure air transportation is as safe in Alaska as in the rest of the nation. We look forward to reviewing the recommendations.”
Matt Atkinson, president of Alaska Air Carriers Association, said despite progress that has been made, "there’s roughly 100 communities, numerous tour routes, mountain pass routes that lack basic aviation weather reporting, adequate communications infrastructure and other aspects that are necessary for safe operations in Alaska,” Alaska's News Source reported.
The FAA maintains 230 weather cameras across Alaska, which have been key tools for flight planning. The report recommends continued evaluation of an experimental weather monitoring system being used at four Alaska airports and installing weather observing systems at airports that do not have them.
Other recommendations include improving mapping of mountain passes and developing better navigation strategies.
More than 80% of Alaska communities are not connected to the state’s main road system, making aviation critical for supplies, travel and emergency situations.
Alaska’s aviation accident rate was 2.35 times higher than the rest of the nation from 2008 to 2017, the NTSB has said. The fatal accident rate in Alaska was 1.34 times higher than the national average, according to NTSB statistics.
A flight tracking system used across the Lower 48 is not required over most of Alaska and is not used by many pilots, with some saying that it is too costly to install, the news outlet reported. The FAA recommended encouraging private pilots and air carriers to buy the systems.
A program that ran in the early 2000s outfitted planes in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta and southeast Alaska with the system. Some data suggested that helped reduce accidents in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta but the program was discontinued before it was completed.
Some want it back, saying if such a program was coupled with better weather monitoring, it would help lower accident rates.