The fatal collision of two floatplanes returning from sightseeing tours near Ketchikan, Alaska on Monday, May 13 is a stark reminder of the horrid air tour industry safety record in Southeastern Alaska and of Taquan Air, the operator of one of the floatplanes that crashed. In an interview with KTUU, Managing Partner Mike Slack discussed how the lack of safety mechanisms and environmental factors create challenges for Alaska’s air tourism market.
After a sightseeing crash that killed four people in 2007, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) demanded safer practices and oversight of air tour operators from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). In the years following, despite the FAA claiming to have made progress, fatal crashes continued to occur. According to Slack, air tourism in Alaska is fueled by immense pressures to generate revenue by flying as much as they can during the summer season and adhering to cruise ship schedules.
“When you’re dealing with common carriers that are paid to transport people, whether it’s a charter, a schedule airline or an air tour, there is a requisite amount of safety that the public should be able to expect that the air tour operator will exercise regardless of where they do it,” said Slack. “The fact that Alaska has mountains, rapidly changing weather conditions, the challenges of remoteness and radios don’t always work very well over the long distances – those are simply factors the air tour operator ask to be built into the safety matrix to make sure they can do it safely.”