The federal government is asking commercial pilots and aviation company officials how to improve safety in Alaska's skies without creating more rules.
Among the first steps in the three-year process are meetings among agency officials, commercial pilots and representatives from smaller aviation companies such as flightseeing tours, charters and air taxis.
Separate meetings, not open to the public, are scheduled for pilots and company officials this week in Juneau.
The Alaska Interagency Aviation Safety Initiative is focusing on the smaller commercial operations because the large carriers in Alaska have safety records as good as the national average, said Diana Bensyl, an injury epidemiologist with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in Anchorage.
But Alaska has a disproportionate number of the nation's small-plane crashes. Alaska accounted for 37 percent of the commuter and air-taxi crashes in the United States between 1990 and 1998, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. Half of the Alaska crashes were fatal.
Aviation crashes are now the leading cause of occupational deaths in Alaska, NIOSH said. Crashes killed 106 commercial pilots in Alaska between 1990 and 1999.
Commercial pilots and company officials who want to participate in the Juneau meetings may call NIOSH in Anchorage at (907) 271-2382. The meetings are scheduled for 2-4 p.m. Tuesday for pilots, and the same time Wednesday for operators, at the Goldbelt Hotel. The agency will not record participants' names, Bensyl said. Other meetings are planned in Ketchikan, Barrow and Bethel.
Besides NIOSH and the NTSB, the other agencies involved in the safety initiative are the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Weather Service.
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