Formed from an infamous legacy of too many aircraft accidents and fatalities in Alaska, the Medallion Foundation was formed by the Alaska Air Carriers Association in 2001 to improve pilot safety awareness and reduce air carrier insurance rates.
In the 1990s, being an Alaskan pilot was listed as the most hazardous occupation in the United States. Aircraft crashes during this time took the lives of 192 commercial pilots alone. Alaska air taxi or commuter operations provide transportation to over 200 rural communities and other remote sites within the state.
On April 25, 2002, Patrick Poe, regional administrator for the FAA in Alaska signed a sizeable grant agreement with the Medallion Foundation to launch a major statewide aviation safety program to establish safety standards that exceed regulatory requirements through the detection of safety trends or needs before actual accidents occur.
Senator Ted Stevens helped secure $3 million in FAA money during 2002, and another $1.5 million the following year. That seed money secured 7 flight simulators (which have since grown to 16), helped place them in numerous locations around the state, provide thousands of hours of training and one-on-one mentoring to participants.
“Past efforts by the FAA to mandate higher safety requirements in Alaska have been met with a storm of protest,” said Stevens in 2003. “I hope the rest of the country will follow Alaska. The industry here is brining positive change about by itself and working with the FAA instead of under the FAA.”
FAA Administrator at the time, Marion Blakey said the Medallion program is unlike anything else in the country and she hoped to see it spread to other areas. To date, there still is nothing like the Medallion Foundation.
This partnership between the FAA and the industry constituted a paradigm shift in public policy and in the aviation industry’s positive interest in going beyond “business as usual”. Medallion set out to create a total change in the safety culture and organizational practices of Alaska’s commercial aviation industry.
The NTSB found the most deadly aviation crashes in Alaska formed a repeated pattern: departure in good visibility conditions followed by continuation into limited visibility and/or poor weather, resulting in crashing into mountains or other terrain.
Programs such as the Medallion Foundation’s CFIT-Avoidance, a part of the Shield Program®, have aided in a decrease in accidents. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Report on CFIT accidents between 2000 and 2009, accidents among commercial air carriers have been reduced 57 percent.
September 2004 Medallion took delivery of state of the art FLYIT simulator for practicing helicopter operations and scenarios. Unique enhanced visuals allow pilots to fly special Alaska VFR routes in high risk corridors through Alaska. Training can duplicate not only actual conditions that might be encountered, but instill risk mitigation techniques and decision making.
Today Medallion continues to promote and deliver its core mission to create a change in the safety culture and organizational practices of not only Alaska’s commercial aviation, but beyond.
2001: Created by Alaska Air Carriers Association. Incorporated November 2, 2001
2002: Initial $3M Grant from the FAA, with $1.5M the following year
February 2003 – 501(c)(3) status. Initial goals: reduce aviation accidents in the state of Alaska; make flying safer in rural Alaska; reduce Alaska aviation insurance rates.
From inception Medallion had simulators, TapRoot and various training for GA and commercial operators available
2003: 8 carriers recognized, 47 participating
2003: Wind charts produced and available for participating members
2004: Congress authorizes another $3M
2004: First Shield recipients – Alaska Airlines & PenAir Circle of Safety; GA Flyer Program
2005: ASAP MOU agreement with FAA
2005: >1000 participants in the GA Flyer Program
2006: PA-18 full motion flight simulator
2008: Additional funding $2,550,000
2008: Initial work in SMS w/ operators
2010: Visual Cue Program with SE Alaska and Hawaii tour operators
2011: G1000 simulator
2012: On-line CRM course