NTSB Chief Cites 'Urgency' to Improve Charter Flights' Safety

"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, NTSB's chairman.

When the National Transportation Safety Board released the preliminary report on its investigation of the May 13, 2019, fatal mid-air collision near Ketchikan, Alaska, the board's chairman pointed out that existing NTSB recommendations could have helped to prevent it, as well as other recent crashes involving for-hire aircraft. The collision between a float-equipped de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver and a float-equipped de Havilland DHC-3 Turbine Otter occurred about 7 miles northeast of Ketchikan; the DHC-2 commercial pilot and four passengers sustained fatal injuries and the DHC-3 certificated airline transport pilot sustained minor injuries, nine passengers sustained serious injuries, and one passenger sustained fatal injuries.

The two planes were operating under Part 135 of FAA regulations, which govern the operation of business and charter flights. So was a plane that crashed on May 26 in Alaska and a helicopter that crashed in Hawaii on 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, NTSB's chairman. "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."

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, according to the board.

"A customer who pays for a ticket should trust that the operator is using the industry's best practices when it comes to safety. 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," Sumwalt said.

The preliminary report on the Ketchikan crash is available here, and the preliminary report on the April 29 helicopter crash is available here.

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