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NTSB Prioritizes Charter-Flight Safety

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is putting a spotlight on Part 135 operations in its newest Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements, continuing a theme that agency leaders have highlighted in recent months as they've looked at differences between the on-demand sector and Part 121 safety.

Improve the Safety of Part 135 Aircraft Flight Operations was one of 10 issues on the 2019/2020 Most Wanted List and was the only one that solely addressed aviation concerns. General aviation safety and/or loss of control, which had been included in a number of the lists over the past decade, was dropped from this latest one.

While Part 135 safety improvement was the sole direct aviation issue in the new list, many of the other issues have cross-modal safety implications that include aviation. These include eliminate distractions, end alcohol and other drug impairment, reduce fatigue-related accidents, and strengthen occupant protection. Sleep-apnea screening is also on the list, but aviation is not one of the target modes.

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As for Part 135 safety, the NTSB said, “Air-tour, air medical service, air-taxi, charter, and on-demand flights are not required to meet the same safety requirements as commercial airlines, leaving them susceptible to disaster.”

The Safety Board expresses the belief that Part 135 must implement safety management systems (SMS) with a flight-data-monitoring (FDM) program and should have controlled-flight-into-terrain avoidance (CFIT) training programs. Most Part 135 operators do not have these programs, the NTSB said.

“Despite the availability of SMS, FDM, and CFIT avoidance programs, preventable crashes involving Part 135 aircraft are occurring all too frequently,” the NTSB said. It pointed to findings of lack of compliance in the Nov. 10, 2015, Hawker 700A crash in Akron, Ohio, as well as lack of SMS, FDM, and adequate CFIT training in the Oct. 2, 2016, Grand Caravan crash in Togiak, Alaska.

The NTSB has 21 open safety recommendations surrounding Part 135 operations, the agency said. “Operators must be proactive about safety; they should not wait for regulations or an accident to move them to action.” Operators that have already incorporated SMS, FDM, and CFIT programs are seeing “tremendous safety returns,” it added.

The inclusion of Part 135 safety on the agency's Most Wanted List follows discussions by key agency officials, including John DeLisi, director of the NTSB’s Office of Aviation Safety, who highlighted these issues during the latest Bombardier Safety Standdown and said Part 121 has laid a roadmap for Part 135. NTSB chairman Robert Sumwalt reiterated this theme during his recent discussion at the National Air Transportation Association’s Aviation Leadership Conference. The subject is on the agenda of next month's Air Charter Safety Foundation’s symposium.