Column: Clouds continue over copter industry
Congressman Ed Case is right calling out local tour helicopter operators for their flying wherever, whenever and however they please absent regulatory enforcement by the local FAA.
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Congressman Ed Case is right calling out local tour helicopter operators for their flying wherever, whenever and however they please absent regulatory enforcement by the local FAA. Resolutions adopted so far by 19 Oahu neighborhood boards and the state Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Diamond Head Citizens Advisory Committee agree with Case’s concerns.
Federal regulation stipulates the following Special Operating Rules for Air Tour Operators in this state:
>> Compliance with flight performance plans filed for each flight.
>> Maintaining minimum flight path altitude of 1,500 feet above all surface areas in Hawaii, and minimum distance of 1,500 feet from any land form, structure or person.
>> Installing amphibious flotation equipment and personal flotation devices, as tour helicopters fly over water when departing and arriving at the airport.
Despite Hawaii-specific regulations and expected but absent enforcement, the following recent commercial and tour helicopter emergencies flash a clear message that significant protective action must be taken:
>> Oct. 22, 2018 — Novictor crash at Kaneohe Bay recreational sand bar.
>> Feb. 21, 2019 — K&S crash in Waipio Valley, Hawaii island.
>> April 16, 2019 — K&S crash in Sacred Falls State Park.
>> April 29, 2019 — Novictor crash with three fatalities on a Kailua street.
>> May 21, 2019 — Schuman emergency landing in Diamond Head National Natural Landmark and State Historic Monument crater park, which averages 3,300 daily visitors.
>> Dec. 26, 2019 — Safari crash with seven fatalities on a Kauai cliff near the Na Pali Coast.
But it’s business as usual for Hawaii’s tour helicopter operators.
Comes now Richard Schuman, Makani Kai and Magnum aviation ventures proprietor, posturing that Case’s concerns are unwarranted (“Hawaii helicopter company owner refutes Ed Case’s accusations that tour helicopters are unsafe,” Star-Advertiser, Jan. 4). Many may recall the Makani Kai plane crash and the state health director’s fatality off Molokai in 2017.
Three Magnum tour choppers continue to fly hourly, eight hours per day, seven days per week at varying altitudes from Waikiki Beach over Kapiolani Park and the surrounding community to Diamond Head’s ridge with its 760-foot summit and visitor platform, closely bisecting the natural crater to Kahala and beyond.
Schuman’s egregious operations are now exacerbated by K&S Bell tour choppers from Kailua-Kona, cacophonously zig-zagging around Diamond Head under 800 feet in varying directions.
All are viewed on the Flight Radar 24 app, with N-Number identifications masked as “H500” and “B407” but found on the FAA Registry at https://registry.faa.gov/aircraftinquiry/name_inquiry.aspx.
Similar low-altitude flights over Punchbowl Cemetery and the Pearl Harbor memorial complex are equally irreverent, and particularly risky in the vicinity of the Pearl Harbor nuclear submarine base. In 2016, a fatal tour helicopter crash occurred near USS Arizona memorial visitors.
Case is squarely on target with his federal Safe and Quiet Skies Act to protect Hawaii’s greater public interest, safety and welfare. Oahu, Kauai and Hawaii island are in dire need of safeguards, which should include required implementation of instrument flight rules (IFR) together with the 1-mile offshore distance at 2,500-feet altitude now required for Long Island.
The state Legislature must also move to attach operation requirements to state airports tour aircraft permits and ground leases. Honolulu’s aerial advertising ordinance has been solely successful, and the Legislature should similarly implement safety, noise and toxic emissions protections on the ground to help ensure safer and quieter skies above Hawaii’s impacted communities.
Unquestionably, the local FAA Air Traffic Control Manager and Flight Standards District Office, state Airports Division, Legislature, county councils and community leaders must collectively convene to responsibly focus on and undertake significant steps to control Hawaii’s lower air level dominated by so-called self-regulated tour aircraft operators presently absent local FAA monitoring and enforcement.
Painting lipstick on a pig is totally unacceptable for tour aircraft operators impacting the safety, health, welfare and quality of life of Hawaii’s people and communities.