Grant Aviation Is Suing The Company That Manages The Bethel Airport Control Towers

Feb 28, 2020

A video screenshot of the Grant Aviation plane on fire on the Bethel runway in July 2019.
Credit Greg Lincoln / Delta Discovery

Grant Aviation is suing the company that runs the air traffic control system at Bethel’s airport, claiming that the company was responsible for a plane crash on the runway last year. This lawsuit was filed after a report came out last week showing that Alaska had twice as many aviation accidents as the rest of the country. 

Last July, a Grant Aviation plane crashed on the Bethel runway and burst into flames. The five passengers onboard only suffered minor injuries. It was a clear day with little to no wind, according to a preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board.

The report says that the pilot, who was coming in from Newtok, asked to land on a certain runway because of how many planes were landing. The pilot was performing a “go around” maneuver when the air traffic controller interrupted him and urgently told him to “turn left immediately.” As the pilot obeyed, he says that the plane suddenly stalled, rolled right, and then crashed.

The report says that the pilot saw the flames and evacuated the passengers before the fire grew out of control. The NTSB is still investigating.

Six months later, Grant Aviation filed a suit against Serco, Inc., a Virginia-based company that operates the air traffic controller positions in Bethel. The complaint says that Serco failed to properly train its employees to manage the amount of airplane traffic that was coming in. Specifically, the complaint points to the air traffic controller’s abrupt command as proof of that negligence.

Anchorage insurance law firm Richmond & Quinn is representing Grant and did not return emails or phone calls for the story. Serco declined to comment. 

Meanwhile, something hit the props of another Grant Aviation plane during takeoff in Hooper Bay on Feb. 4. Two days later, a Yute Commuter Service plane crashed several miles from Tuntutuliak, killing everyone on board.

The NTSB report that focused on Alaska's aviation accident rates urged federal regulators to work with the state to improve safety.