Safety board urges FAA action after numerous flightseeing crashes near Ketchikan

Published: Nov. 29, 2022 at 9:38 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The National Transportation Safety Board said Tuesday that it wants to see the Federal Aviation Administration “issue aviation regulations specific to Ketchikan to require more conservative flight minimums and enhanced weather training for air tour pilots flying there.”

According to a press release from the agency, there have been seven air tour crashes in Ketchikan since 2007, leaving 31 people dead over the 14-year span while seriously injuring 13 others.

The incidents prompted the NTSB to urge the FAA to take action by identifying potential improvements in a new report. The 20-page report from the safety board includes new regulations the NTSB hopes the aviation administration will look into.

“What we’re asking them to do is to look at what we refer to as an SFAR — a special federal aviation regulation — basically raise those minimums for tour operators,” NTSB Alaska Region Chief Clint Johnson said. “Obviously an accident involving the tour industry not only hurts the operator, the industry, but the state as well”

Johnson says weather is a huge contributor for crashes in Southeast Alaska, especially in Ketchikan. The recommendations span from the most recent accident — which occurred on Aug. 21 of this year — and take into account older accidents. There have been several recommendations to the FAA in the past that stem back to the early 2000s.

“The cold hard facts are unfortunately, the Ketchikan area — specifically southeast Alaska, but more so specifically to Ketchikan — it’s not a stranger to the Alaska NTSB. Unfortunately we’ve been down there a number of times, for a number of years. Typically the accidents we see down there are weather related. They have some pretty unique weather patterns, inland fjords, mountainous terrain, so it’s a very challenging environment to fly in. We realize that,” Johnson said.

All of the improvements recommended by NTSB meant to address flight safety hazards would help improve air tour safety in the Ketchikan area. In the report, NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy said that special federal aviation regulations have effectively reduced air-tour accidents, saving untold lives.

“We’re hoping that these enhanced measures will curtail the accidents and hopefully, in a perfect world, do away with them. But again, it’s risk management — we’re trying to prevent these accidents from happening again,” Johnson said.