Saturday, September 07, 2013

Aviation tragedies conceal safer-than-normal Alaska flying season

September 6, 2013  

By Colleen Mondor
Alaska Dispatch

A rash of deadly aviation accidents -- four in less than two weeks -- has left six people dead and many Alaskans reeling in grief. And so it's gone for six months: in March, as the world watched mushers push into the frozen wilderness along the Iditarod Trail, a mother and daughter flying in to volunteer at a checkpoint were killed, along with the family friend (a neighbor) who was piloting them through Rainy Pass. Just days later two pilots were killed when their plane went down outside Dillingham. As the peak season of summer tourism arrived in Southcentral Alaska, a well-known pilot was killed, along with two families from the East Coast, before their plane could depart Soldotna's municipal airport. That accident, killing nine including Rediske Air owner Walter Rediske, was the deadliest in recent memory and yet in its wake the accidents have continued unabated: Merrill Field, Sutton, Tatina and now an Anchorage pilot, out hunting near Glenallen brings the death toll this year to 28.

With so much loss, it's difficult to put the accidents in perspective and analyze Alaska's aviation safety record. And yet, a closer look at 2013 flying statistics reveals a bit of good news amid all the harsh headlines.

This year has been safer for Alaskan pilots than many years past, according to an analysis of National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) accident data dating back to 2003*. The simple fact: there have actually been fewer aircraft accidents this year, than in those previous.

Here is the breakdown by year:

Year Accidents (Total) Fatal Accidents (Total)
2013 61 10
2012 83 6
2011 77 8
2010 66 11
2009 76 3
2008 79 8
2007 74 7
2006 79 8
2005 102 6
2004 72 10

In 2003, there were 87 accidents recorded by the NTSB; 10 of them were fatality accidents. A fatality accident classification by the NTSB means that at least one person died in the accident; however, multiple deaths occuring in the same crash -- Soldotna, for example -- doesn't influence the NTSB methodology used to count accidents and measure safety.

With only a few weeks left in the busiest aviation season -- weeks when aviation deaths may crest 30 for the year as Alaskans head out for the fall hunting season -- 2013 is, nonetheless, looking as though it could be one of the safest in some time for Alaska aviators.

How's that so, with so much death?

 Read more:  Alaska Dispatch  - Aviation tragedies conceal safer-than-normal Alaska flying season

Colleen Mondor, a former Fairbanks-area air taxi dispatcher, is the author of “The Map of My Dead Pilots: The Dangerous Game of Flying in Alaska.” She holds degrees in aviation and northern studies; her graduate work on pilot error accidents in Alaska is cited in NTSB reports and studies.

* NTSB accident records extend online back to 1962. However, technology and its impact on the Alaskan aviation environment have changed dramatically in the ensuing decades, thus for the purposes of this article, I selected to analyze data primarily through the past decade.

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