Uncategorized Editorial: Probe allegations about air safety Feb. 3, 2020 Mahalo for supporting Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Enjoy this free story! The tour helicopter industry and its federal overseers, already reeling from fatal crashes in Hawaii, have taken another bruise from whistleblower allegations about inadequate aircraft inspections and other irregularities at commercial operations in the islands. Read more Mahalo for reading the Honolulu Star-Advertiser! You're reading a premium story. Read the full story with our Print & Digital Subscription. Subscribe Now Read this story for free: Watch an ad or complete a survey Log In Already a subscriber? Log in now to continue reading this story. Activate Digital Account Print subscriber but without online access? Activate your Digital Account now. The tour helicopter industry and its federal overseers, already reeling from fatal crashes in Hawaii, have taken another bruise from whistleblower allegations about inadequate aircraft inspections and other irregularities at commercial operations in the islands. The response — Hawaii’s two U.S. senators demanding a detailed investigation — is the right one. Without a doubt, 2019 was a terrible year for air safety. The worries about tour safety spiked last spring when a sightseeing helicopter crashed on Oneawa Street in Kailua, killing the pilot and two passengers. And although circumstances with a fixed-wing craft are certainly different, the death toll of 11 in a June 21 skydiving crash at Mokuleia sharpened general public concerns about civilian aviation. Finally, on Dec. 26 the pilot and six passengers aboard an Airbus AS352 B2 tour helicopter died when the craft struck a cliff face in Kokee, Kauai. The heat of the safety issue, already feverish, of course was exacerbated with Hawaii fans watching from afar as basketball great Kobe Bryant, his young daughter and seven other victims perished in a chopper crash in Southern California. Foggy conditions were noted in both crashes. With all that context, the report of a Federal Aviation Administration inspector calling foul on the agency resonates deeply. This whistleblower is Joseph Monfort, a veteran of more than 10 years with the FAA. According to a report by CBS News, Monfort told U.S. Senate investigators that his superiors denied him travel authorizations to conduct aircraft inspections at Safari Helicopters, the operation involved in December’s Kauai crash. In an unrelated account, the Associated Press reported about another Senate committee query. In that case, two whistleblowers alleged an inappropriately close relationship between FAA managers and Novictor Helicopters, operators of the Robinson R44 sightseeing chopper that went down in Kailua. In this claim, the FAA Hawaii field office allowed Novictor’s owner to certify pilots for flights on the FAA’s behalf. The owner approved a pilot who flew the helicopter in the Kailua crash. U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono rightly called for an investigation into the FAA. In a letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Inspector General, the senators want a probe “into the specific oversight lapses raised by the whistleblowers.” The inquiry should look at Hawaii helicopter operations, as well as policies and procedures of the Office of Aviation Safety, the Western-Pacific Region; and the Hawaii Flight Standards District Offices, they wrote. These disturbing allegations top a mounting pile of complaints about regulation of the tour aviation industry. Hawaii Congressman Ed Case has led the charge in the U.S. House, in September introducing a bill to crack down on safety and noise standards as air tours fly over residences. On Friday, Case said he was “disturbed but not surprised” about the allegations, adding that the FAA is “too close to this industry to be objective.” Hawaii has just passed the stunning threshold of 10 million visitor arrivals in 2019. And with increasing arrivals comes a greater incentive to monetize this through the scenery air tours. Since March 2010, the number of helicopter landings has increased nine-fold, reaching 2,105 in March 2019, according to state figures. The numbers are only going up from there. It’s clear that the industry requires greater scrutiny, not less — the latter of which, if the whistleblower reports bear out, is what the FAA has been giving it. Hawaii residents and their visitors deserve that assurance from their federal government. Previous Story Editorial: Honolulu should meet its rail deadline Next Story Column: Why are builders, environmentalists bickering over Bill 25?