CLARIFICATION: Alaska Airlines Inc. has protested headlines containing the words "Alaska Airline" over stories about a federal investigation of a commuter carrier, Ryan Air Service. Alaska Airlines is a Seattle-based carrier, not a commuter airline, and not assiciated with Ryan, which is based in Anchorage. (Published 1/1/88)
The commuter airline whose twin-engine plane crashed last month in Homer, Alaska, killing 18 people, has been involved in 10 accidents since 1980 and been cited 22 times for violations ranging from sloppy record-keeping to inoperative instruments, government records show.
The National Transportation Safety Board, investigating the most recent accident, is considering pressing the Federal Aviation Administration for a full-scale review of Ryan Air Service operations.
"The frequency of incidents has prompted, among other things, a close look at Ryan's operations," said Alan Pollock, an NTSB spokesman. He said the board has not decided on recommendations, and he declined to speculate about possible action.
Ryan, founded in 1959 by Wilfred Ryan, Sr., as Unalakleet Air Taxi Service, is Alaska's largest commuter airline. It has expanded rapidly in the last decade and boasts 35 planes and service to 70 communities.
In the last seven years, the airline has also been dogged by accidents and incidents in which 30 persons, including a snowmobiler, have been killed and 12 injured.
Nine of the incidents are considered minor scrapes in Alaska's rugged flying conditions. These include two cases of collapsed nose-landing gear and a forced landing after engine failure.
Several accidents are typical of "bush flying conditions," where pilots -- who provide the only outside link to some remote communities -- land on tiny airstrips in terrible weather.
In a crash Dec. 15, 1985, at Napaskiak, for example, the plane's windshield iced in drizzle, rain and fog, and the pilot lost sight of the runway. The plane crashed as the pilot attempted to turn for another approach, seriously injuring the pilot and three passengers. At least three accidents involved non-passenger cargo flights.
The snowmobiler died at Koyuk after being struck by a Ryan plane. In that accident, the pilot told investigators that he purposely landed short to take advantage of a runway that sloped up and to avoid snow-removal equipment at the runway's far end.
The crash Nov. 23 at Homer has raised questions at the FAA and the NTSB.
Investigators have said they believe that weight was a factor in the accident, which occurred when the fully-loaded Beechcraft 1900 crashed short of the runway while landing at Homer Airport southwest of Anchorage.
The plane was carrying two pilots and 19 passengers, each of whom weighed about 190 pounds, investigators said. The plane was also carrying heavy crates of venison in its cargo hold.
One of the survivors told investigators that, on an earlier leg of the flight at Kodiak, the plane lifted off, settled, rolled farther down the runway and eventually took off, an NTSB spokesman said.
Investigators, examining the flight log, have found that the pilots apparently knew that the plane had too much weight loaded in the rear and was tail-heavy.
More troubling to investigators, they said, is the fact that copilot Gareth Stoltzfus, who died in the crash, was the airline's director of pilot training.
Ryan was fined $16,000 by the FAA in 1985 for having a nonqualified pilot in command of commuter operations. Four weeks before the crash, the FAA recommended that the airline pay a $16,500 fine for lapses in pilot training and record-keeping, but the case has not been resolved.
A spokesman for Ryan could not be reached for comment.