STAR-BULLETIN / SEPTEMBER 1996
Kiyoshi Matsunaya sits with helicopter pilot Atsushi Ohara after a crash landing in the ocean a mile off the Kahala shoreline. All four people on board survived with no injuries. Paramedic Patty Dukes covers Ohara and tells him to remove his wet shirt. New FAA rules for air tours already are in effect in Hawaii. CLICK FOR LARGE
New air tour rules already in place here
New federal rules for commercial air tours will largely bring the rest of the country up to standards that tour operators in Hawaii have been living with for years.
The Federal Aviation Administration rules, which were announced yesterday and take effect in six months, "will increase overall air tour safety, improve the FAA's ability to track and monitor commercial air tour flights, and help us identify and address operational trends that could lead to accidents," said FAA Administrator Marion C. Blakey in a news release.
Hawaii helicopter and fixed-wing sightseeing tour pilots have been operating under strict regulations since 1996, when the FAA put out a Special Federal Aviation Regulation for Hawaii. The regulation came after an investigation into several fatal crashes, including two on the same day in 1994.
The SFAR 71, as the Hawaii regulation is called, required that operators make certain precautions when it comes to water landings, such as giving detailed briefings on how to get out of a helicopter if it hits the water and requiring all passengers to wear flotation devices.
The rules require the operators fill out paperwork before every flight, and mandate that helicopters have floats if they fly over water. Tour operators could avoid fitting their craft with flotation devices if each occupant is wearing a life preserver and the tour never strays past gliding distance to the shoreline and a safe place to land.
Air tour companies are also required to get permits from the FAA, giving them information such as who runs the operation, who maintains the aircraft, what type of aircraft they use and how their drug- and alcohol-testing program works.
Sightseeing tour operators from the Grand Canyon to Maine, and any air shows in between, are now subject to the same regulations.
"Now the rest of the country has to deal with what we have to deal with," said Chuck DiPiazza, owner of Air Kauai Helicopters.
FAA officials said the new rules will give them better oversight of the commercial air tour industry.
In the past, officials said, the FAA has found it difficult to track where some mainland commercial air tours were conducted and how many there were. The reporting requirements in these regulations will let the FAA develop a database of these flights so the agency can ensure operators are complying with the applicable regulations.
Safety investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board have pressed for the rules, having looked into 107 accidents that killed 98 people between 1988 and 1995.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.