Recent tragedies put safety of "flightseeing” planes under scrutiny
Charter flight operators need to follow the same safety measures that major passenger airlines comply with, according to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which is in the process of investigating a string of recent accidents involving for-hire aircraft.
The latest incident occurred May 13, 2019, when a mid-air collision between two floatplanes near Ketchikan, Alaska killed five people and injured ten others. Both aircraft were conducting “flightseeing” tours that allowed passengers aerial views of scenic attractions.
The aircraft involved in the mid-air collision, says the NTSB, were operating under Part 135 of FAA regulations, which govern the operation of business and charter flights. So was an airplane that crashed Monday in Alaska and the helicopter that crashed in Hawaii April 29.
“While these tragic accidents are still under investigation, and no findings or causes have been determined, each crash underscores the urgency of improving the safety of charter flights by implementing existing NTSB safety recommendations,” said Robert L. Sumwalt, Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. “The need for those improvements is why the NTSB put Part 135 aircraft flight operations on the 2019 – 2020 Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements.”
The NTSB’s safety recommendations call on Part 135 operators to implement safety management systems, record and analyze flight data, and ensure pilots receive controlled-flight-into-terrain avoidance training. Major passenger airlines, which operate under Part 121, have adopted these measures and have seen a great improvement in safety.
“A customer who pays for a ticket should trust that the operator is using the industry’s best practices when it comes to safety,’’ Sumwalt said. “And it shouldn’t matter if the operator has one airplane or 100. Travelers should have an equivalent level of safety regardless of the nature of the flight for which they paid.”
The preliminary report on the investigation of the May 13 mid-air collision does not discuss probable cause. The report contains information gathered thus far in the investigation. Determination of probable cause and the issuance of any safety recommendations comes at the end of an investigation. Investigations involving fatalities and other major NTSB investigations currently take between 12 and 24 months to complete.
The preliminary report for the Ketchikan crash is available on the NTSB website at https://go.usa.gov/xmfmQ .
The preliminary report for the Metlakatla crash has not yet been developed.