Flying in Alaska is so much more challenging than anywhere else in the nation that the state’s aviation safety has always been — and remains — one of the FAA’s top priorities.
That’s why the state is a “pathfinder” for new aviation safety technologies, such as weather cameras and ADS-B, according to a new post, “How the FAA is Increasing Aviation Safety in a State Like No Other: Alaska,” by Shelly Larson, the FAA’s acting regional administrator for the Alaskan region.
“The work is never done, though,” she notes. “That’s why we launched the FAA Alaska Aviation Safety Initiative, or FAASI, last October (2020).”
FAASI is a “sweeping examination of safety issues specific to the challenges of flying in Alaska,” including environment, weather, the Alaskan fleet, communications, navigation, surveillance, and more.
Through FAASI, the FAA is taking a “fresh look at these threats,” she added.
“The FAA is always on the lookout for innovations that can help,” she continues. “Right now, we’re investigating a technology that we call VWOS, the Visual Weather Observation System. VWOS uses the existing weather camera network in Alaska by providing estimated visibility and other information. The additional weather information, combined with provisions in the FAA 2018 Reauthorization bill, could enable commercial operators to fly instrument approaches into more than 100 additional Alaska airports.”
But it’s more than airports, she notes. While in the Lower 48, we associate flying with airports, in Alaska “you have to consider “landing areas,” she said.
“In fact, the state has twice as many ‘landing areas’ as public use airports. Often it’s a remote unpaved or gravel airstrip in the middle of the wilderness or an isolated body of water.”
But Alaska’s airports aren’t forgotten, she adds. Since 2010, the FAA has dedicated more than $2 billion in grants to the state.