NTSB issues safety recommendations after Alaska midair crash

A federal agency tasked with investigating plane crashes is recommending that all pilots be required to communicate their positions on a designated radio frequency when entering and exiting areas not controlled by air traffic control towers throughout Alaska.

The recommendations to the Federal Aviation Administration are included in a report from the National Transportation Safety Board following a mid-air collision that killed seven people, including an Alaska state lawmaker, near Soldotna on July 31, 2020. The report was dated Feb. 22, and published Friday.

In the 2020 crash, the two planes collided just over 2 miles from the Soldotna Airport, which does not have an air traffic control tower. Aircraft in the area are supposed to monitor traffic on a set frequency.

Though there are 21 airports within a 30-mile radius of Soldotna with five different communication frequencies, a post-accident check of both planes could not determine which frequency each was monitoring.

“Because both airplanes were operating in uncontrolled airspace, it was the responsibility of both pilots to visually acquire aircraft flying in their vicinity and maintain separation from them,” the report said.

RELATED: Kenai legislator and local pilot among 7 killed in midair plane crash

The NTSB has not released a probable cause report in this crash.

“Safety recommendations are typically released at the conclusion of an investigation but every year the NTSB issues recommendations prior to that point,” NTSB spokesperson Peter Knudson said in an email to The Associated Press.

“Sometimes the completion of an accident investigation may be delayed for any number of reasons. In such cases, the NTSB sometimes decides to push ahead with the recommendations when all of the factual information is collected and the analytical work is completed, which was the case here,” Knudson said.

Pilot diligence is important since only 13 airports in Alaska have air traffic control towers, the report said.

Between 2005-2020, there have been 14 midair collisions in Alaska, with 12 of them in uncontrolled airspace, the report said. The collisions resulted in 35 deaths and 15 serious injuries.

The NTSB in the report also recommended that pilots communicate their position near established reporting points and airport traffic patterns within the common traffic advisory frequency area unless the pilot is in contact with air traffic control.

The safety board also is advising the FAA to establish additional common traffic advisory frequency areas in parts of Alaska at high risk of midair collisions. It also recommends that one frequency be associated with all non-towered airports of those areas and define mandatory position reporting locations and requirements.

“The FAA will review the National Transportation Safety Board’s recommendations,” FAA spokesperson Tammy Jones said in an email to The Associated Press.

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