Medallion program rewards airline safety improvements

Earning recognition for air safety -- especially in Alaska -- is good for business.

For eight Alaska businesses, it meant a photo opportunity with U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens and Marion Blakey, Federal Aviation Administration chief, both in Anchorage Aug. 7 to present Medallion Foundation plaques at the Aviation Museum at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.

The Medallion program is a nonprofit, industry-driven program in Alaska that tries to set safety standards higher than regulatory requirements, said Angela Elgee, the FAA’s direct liaison to Medallion. Elgee manages the Systems Safety Analysis Branch for the FAA’s Alaska Region in its Flight Standards Division.

In addition to a public relations coup, Elgee said there are two economic motivators for Alaska carriers to pursue Medallion certification -- lower insurance rates and the ability to advertise that operations are at a higher level of safety than required.

Statewide in Alaska there are 47 carriers participating in Medallion, now in its second year.

One company recognized Thursday was Era Aviation, where Paul Landis is senior vice president.

"It’s an important program for all carriers, that they strive to improve their operations," Landis said. "This sort of validates their efforts. And in many cases it causes us to refocus and see if there are areas where we can improve."

How will Era market the award?

"We intend to carry it forward to our insurance companies," Landis said. "We also are a Department of Defense-approved contractor, and they like seeing things like this. And as the public gets more educated about the Medallion program, it’s a good yardstick for them to judge the carriers that they’re riding on."

Blakey spoke highly of the Medallion program.

"This is something that truly saves lives," she said. "What you’re doing here is pioneering work. Alaska is working very hard to raise the safety bar."

Blakey also said she would like to see the Medallion program expanded to the Lower 48.

"You are at the forefront of a number of technologies that are not being employed elsewhere," she said.

Joining Era as Medallion winners were Peninsula Airways, Alaska Airlines, Frontier Flying Service, Warbelow’s Air Venture, ConocoPhillips (for its simulator program), Spernak Airways and Northern Air Cargo.

Jerry Dennis, executive director of the Medallion Foundation, said the awards promote safety, which in turn can help carriers at the cash register.

"It advertises a commitment that the operator has toward enhancing safety," Dennis said.

"This is above the regulatory requirement and is completely voluntary on their part," Dennis said. "It provides another level of safety and confidence that the traveling public can have."

An FAA draft plan for 2004-2008, distributed to media Aug. 7, zeroes in on Alaska. The FAA is making a special commitment to air safety in Alaska, "where the challenging operating environment has led to an unacceptably high aviation accident rate," the plan says.

The goal stated in the FAA plan is to reduce accidents in Alaska for general aviation and small commercial flights by 20 percent by 2008. That percentage would mean a reduction, on average, from 133 accidents per year in 2000-2002 to no more than 106 accidents per year.

FAA initiatives for Alaska include:

Achieving full operational capability of the WAAS (wide area augmentation system). WAAS is use of satellites to calculate the precise position of aircraft either in flight or on approach. Expanding the Capstone Program through a three-phase approach affecting Bethel, Southeast and then the entire state. Capstone is avionics installed in small aircraft for improved safety, providing terrain mapping. Expanding the use of weather cameras. Expanding the Medallion Program. Approving RNP (required navigation performance) for small aircraft that support development of an improved en route and approach infrastructure.The FAA plan also has an overview on increasing airport capacity."Aviation finds itself facing the one-two-three punch of terrorism, structural change and weak global economic conditions," the plan states.Blakey also said she is upbeat regarding future federal funding for Alaska aviation."I think Alaska is going to do very well with the budget," she said. "That’s my impression."Stevens said the Medallion Foundation will get $1.5 million in taxpayer money this year after receiving $3 million last year.
08/17/2003 - 8:00pm