FAA radio rules in area of 2011 crash nearly standardized

Photo/File/AP

Uncertainty amongst pilots over proper radio frequencies west of the Susitna River is being resolved more than two years after a midair collision involving aircraft using different frequencies killed a family of four.

“The confusion over (Common Traffic Advisory Frequencies) CTAFs has been that small airports west of the Susitna were given different frequencies about five years ago, and the areas of differing frequencies overlap,” Alaska Air Carriers Association Executive Director Joy Journeay said.

The issue had tragic consequences July 30, 2011, over Sister Lake, near Trapper Creek when a Cessna 206 taking off from Sister Lake Collided with a Cessna 180. The Cessna 180 crashed and all four onboard were killed. The pilot of the Cessna 206 was able to fly to Anchorage for help after radioing to report the collision.

A May 2013 National Transportation Safety Board report on the incident found that the pilot of the 206 was on CTAF 122.8, while the 180 pilot was using CTAF 122.9. The report does not assign fault to either pilot. Both were headed to land on Amber Lake, less than a mile from the crash.

A review of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Supplement Alaska handbook and official chart for the area show conflicting instructions as to the correct radio frequency to use. The handbook and charts are both required to be onboard an aircraft during flight to comply with FAA regulations.

The chart calls for CTAF 122.9 to be used over much of the flat west of the Susitna and specifies the frequency to be used May 15 to July 15 around the Deshka River Recreation Area, a popular flight path during king salmon season. Several private airports in the area are assigned CTAF 122.8, according to the chart.

Page 402 of the Supplement Alaska reads as follows for the Matanuska-Susitna Borough: “CTAF assignment generally is accomplished according to the following: Airports south and west of the Parks Highway are assigned 122.8. Airports north and east of the Parks Highway are assigned 122.9.”

Journeay said she’s been told by FAA officials that page 402 of the handbook, which is updated quarterly, will be removed in future printings and that future charts will be corrected. Until then, the discrepancy will still exist.

FAA officials did not respond to requests for comment in time for this story.

Air Carriers board member Danny Davidson said for years the area was understood to be a 122.9 area. Davidson operates his flight service, Davidson Aviation, out of Anchorage and lives near Trapper Creek.

“The confusion, today, is still in effect. Pick a number,” Davidson said.

Journeay said the Air Carriers Association brought the issue to the FAA’s attention shortly after the 2011 crash, and began taking action again this spring when association members said it had not been resolved. She added that the association’s members have been in consensus for two years that the area west of the Susitna River should be a 122.9 area.

When it was brought to the attention of Anchorage FAA officials in the Airports and Flight Service divisions this spring that nothing had been done regarding the CTAFs, Journeay said action began immediately. She attributed the lack of response to “red-tape and inner-government process.”

Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected].

Updated: 
12/06/2016 - 2:57pm