Small aircraft are nearly as common a sight in Fairbanks' skies as ravens over the landfill. Ours is a region that has long been tied to individual air travel and we celebrate our history and the heroics of bush pilots who found their way across Alaska many times by the seat of their pants.
Few are interested in that kind of harrowing cross-country ride these days, however, and last week the Federal Aviation Administration announced safety goals for pilots as part of National Transportation Week.
Though our community suffered a tragic reminder of the dangers inherent in air travel earlier this month when a local man died in a crash near Chena Marina, the safety record of Alaska pilots has improved greatly, according to the FAA.
The agency reports that since 1995 the annual number of aviation accidents has dropped from 175 to 111 in the year 2004.
The FAA established Alaska-specific goals in its five-year strategic plan that call for reducing commercial and general aviation accidents to 104 by the year 2008. Given the progress of the past 10 years, that goal seems completely reachable.
Alaskans, and especially Alaska pilots, don't necessarily need advice from the FAA to fly safely. Our region is undoubtedly home to some of the most skilled pilots in the country and also to people who are quite well aware of what safe piloting behavior looks like.
However, reduction in accidents won't occur without private pilots joining in the effort. Of the 111 accidents in 2004, 83 were folks in the general aviation category. Of those, the 17 fatalities involved pilots transporting family members or friends.
It is sobering to note that there have been 46 general aviation accidents this year 22 since March and in at least one incident family members were killed with their own kin at the controls.
The FAA is doing two things to assist in this effort. It has proposed issuing a weekly aviation accident scorecard, which this newspaper will consider printing (we haven't seen it yet), and the agency is trying to promote the Medallion Foundation.
The foundation offers time on aircraft simulators free of charge. The simulators are located throughout the state and are said to make it possible for flyers to refresh their skills in a variety of aircraft.
Pilots get to take advantage of Medallion staff, most of whom are experienced flyers themselves, and there is an added bonus of receiving a discount from insurance carriers when pilots use the Medallion program, according to the FAA.
As an overriding message for the start of the summer flying season, the FAA is emphasizing that flying should be just as serious a business for the recreational flyer as it is for the professional.
For more information on the Medallion Foundation, go to www.medallionfoundation.org.
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner,
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