Dana Atkins

Date of Award

January 2021

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)



First Advisor

Daniel K. Adjekum


Aviation is a vital component of the State of Alaska’s transportation system. Air transportation is frequently the only means to move goods, services, and people across the state. Historically, air taxi and non-scheduled/charter air operators (14 C.F.R. Part 135) form the bulk of service providers in Alaska and have poor operational safety records through high rates of accidents. The problem is still prevalent despite numerous initiatives by the Federal Aviation Administration to reduce adverse safety events. Accident investigation reports have nominally attributed causal factors of these accidents to pilot error and at-risk behaviors such as violations. Extant research in aviation human factors suggest that optimal aeronautical decision-making (ADM) by pilots is essential for safe flight outcomes. There seems to be a paucity in literature that qualitatively explores factors influencing effective ADM of Part 135 pilots who fly in this operationally challenged region. Documentary analysis of accident case studies and semi-structured interviews with a convenience sample of Part 135 pilots with varying experiences flying in Alaska were conducted. Thematic analysis was used to extract salient themes that throw light on the problem statement. Findings suggest that mentorship, camaraderie, and positive relationships with senior management are essential for optimal ADM by these pilots, which auger well for operational safety. Investments in proactive organizational safety initiatives and improvements in aviation technology infrastructure were also highlighted by respondents as key to effective ADM. The study provides in-depth understanding of Part 135 pilot ADM during flight operations and helps to frame policies and practices for safer operations in Alaska.