The reason that we didn’t go on the floatplane flight during our Alaska cruise was that it was too expensive. It didn’t occur to me that it might be dangerous. I have flown high above Alaska hundreds of times. I have notices that the weather there stinks most of the time. I have ridden in an Islander across Kodiak Island a few times. During those flights I rode with mostly young, but always very conscientious pilots. I am always stimulated by the stories of bush pilots “water skiing” across a stretch of water and stopping in incredibly short distances once on shore. I found a report called “Fatal and Serious Injury Accidents in Alaska, A Retrospective of the years 2004 through 2009 with Special Emphasis on Post Crash survival.” While not all that much fun to read about accidents, it is undeniably interesting. The leading causes of accidents in this report: Spin/stall loss of control, and continued VFR into IFR conditions. As a veteran scud runner back in my younger years, I can sympathize with the pilots in the Alaska environment. In Alaska, if one is to fly at all on any given day, it will likely be in and out of low clouds. At one moment you are flying along at low altitude with acceptable visibility, suddenly you’re in solid IMC (instrument meteorological conditions, in the clouds). You can either make a 180 degree turn and hope you miss the mountains, or pull up and beg for an instrument clearance. Most of the pilots involved in these accidents were in their 40s and 50s, with 5000-8000 hours of flying time. These are not newbies. The statistics show the third cause of accidents to be “willful violation.” Also “rogue pilot” category showed 100% fatality when involved in an accident.
Of course, inexperienced pilots are always at greater risk, but is Alaska a place that will eventually “get” you if you fly there long enough? I can’t say for sure, but if my pilot has a good GPS display with terrain, the weather is acceptable, and he or she convinces me that we have the same (conservative) concept of risk, then I’m ready to go flying.
For all you Alaskan flight department managers out there: Have you had a safety audit lately? Can your pilots cancel a flight and keep their job? Do your aircraft have GPS/terrain?