EVERY ALASKAN KNOWS a pilot. With one in five Alaska residents in possession of a valid pilot’s license, air travel up here is a near-constant state of taking off and landing. Midsummer is considered the busiest season for the FAA’s Alaska region and its 2,427,971 miles of airspace, with flightseeing, fishing and seasonal cabin transport in full swing.
To an Alaska visitor, the sight of so many colorful and interesting aircraft provides neverending eye candy. Day or night, one type of plane or another swoops across the Alaska sky, bound for adventure or business, engines roaring or propellers humming. Flying holds romantic value for many people, in addition to the heart-stopping beauty of seeing our state from heaven’s doorstep. But all this independent puttering around the sky comes with a price.
A small plane lands on the beach at Hallo Bay bear camp
Air travel is safe, but safety comes with myriad details and a strong sense of responsibility on the part of everyone who climbs aboard - passenger or pilot. In an effort to reduce aircraft accidents and encourage passengers to be their own best advocate for safety, the FAA has teamed up with the Medallion Foundation to create the Circle of Safety. A collaborative effort among air carriers, passengers, pilots, and the FAA, the Circle of Safety seeks to educate and empower everyone who rides in, or pilots, an aircraft.
I’ll admit, I’ve not been the strongest advocate for myself while sitting, knees-to-chest, in the back of a single-engine aircraft bound for a destination miles from assistance should things go wrong; nor am I the first to pull out that safety card at the beginning of a flight to the Lower 48.
Kids can be in the Circle, too, by locating exits and reading safety cards onboard!
Here’s what I learned about the my part to play in the Circle of Safety:
1. Pay attention during the safety briefing - on any aircraft with any destination. Do you know the nearest exit? Or how to open the door? Do you have a plan for children in your care? Knowing what to do, where, and when could possibly save everyone in the event of an emergency.
2. Know the location of safety equipment. Smaller aircraft place emergency kits in different places according to size and item selection. When the pilot tells you where the kits are, look and locate for yourself.
3. Ask if a flight plan has been filed. What is a flight plan? Every pilot must state, in writing, where he or she intends to go, how, and at what time. Don’t hesitate to inquire; even the shortest distance is worthy of a plan. It’s your seat aboard that airplane, and you have the right to know the trip is recorded.
4. Don’t distract the pilot during take off or landing. The riskiest moments of flight come at the beginning and end of the trip. Pilots need to concentrate on a variety of duties at this time; asking questions or distracting the pilot with photographs or other potentially dangerous activities should be avoided. You’ll have plenty of time for chatting while up in the air. Ditto for making requests for flying low just for the sake of a good photo op.
Flying around Alaska is one of the most wonderful ways to experience our state, but safety should always take center stage.
Erin Kirkland is a freelance writer and author of AKontheGO.com, a website dedicated to family travel and outdoor recreation in Alaska.