Figure 5-1

General aviation accident rates by region of the United States. (Source: GAO, 1993)

quence of the unusually harsh terrain and weather. However, as indicated below, there are other factors associated with the air transportation system that seem to contribute to higher accident rates experienced by general aviation pilots in mountainous regions.

The Alaskan Example 1980 and 1995

After traveling to Alaska and assessing the ability of existing federal aviation weather systems to satisfy regional user needs, the committee obtained a copy of a study that the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) published in 1980 (NTSB, 1980). That study examined the safety of air taxi operations in Alaska. Comparison of the NTSB study with the current state of affairs in Alaskan aviation indicates that most of the regional issues and concerns noted by this committee have existed for at least the past 15 years, and it does not seem that the FAA, NWS, state of Alaska, and other involved parties have been very successful in addressing them. Based on its own investigation of Alaskan aviation, the committee concluded that each of the following quotes from the 1980 NTSB study are still true today:

VFR flight in adverse weather is not uncommon in Alaska.... The risk of losing unrecoverable business often results in pressure on the operator or pilot to fly when good judgment dictates otherwise.... The lack of FAA inspectors permanently on-site at the regional hub airports—FAA inspectors are permanently assigned only in Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Juneau—does little to discourage these unwarranted and often illegal flights. There is no one of authority available to discourage or stop those operators or pilots with a "bush mentality" from flying when others choose not to do so.

The FAA appears to believe that the most serious safety problem is operator and pilot attitude, and the operators and pilots seem to feel that the FAA, rather than working with them to solve their problems, is "violation" oriented.

Another problem that operators and pilots face is inadequate reporting of weather conditions. The problem is twofold and involves both inadequate official weather observations and inadequate communication of the observations. Many operators believe that the official weather reporting system set up by the NWS, using certified weather observers, has deteriorated over the years.... Remote automated weather observations stations were considered by the operators as being inadequate....

To alleviate the communication problem and the lack of a certified weather observer in a particular village, many operators have set up their own weather observation and communications networks.... However, even this private system is not perfect.... Sometimes weather conditions and runway conditions are reported as being significantly better than they are.... Further, the weather observers usually are not trained or certified by the NWS. Thus, the flights based on these weather data are often in violation of Federal Aviation Regulations. This system has been tolerated because of the lack of an alternative system.

While a dialogue exists between the FAA and the State DOT/PF [Department of Transportation and Public Facilities], the degree of coordination among the state and federal agencies (particularly the FAA and the NWS) does not appear to be sufficient to develop and implement an adequate aviation infrastructure.

The persistence of these factors indicates that, at least in Alaska, some of the accident risk faced by general aviation aircraft in mountainous regions is the direct result of (1) the ineffectiveness of the current regulatory system in countering economic factors that induce air carriers and air taxis to conduct VFR operations without complete weather information and in questionable weather condi-

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