Air-tour rules fail to appease resident
A critic says low-fliers threaten those on land
A Haena resident who helped pull victims out of Sunday's helicopter crash is worried helicopter tours will some day hurt people on the ground.
Richard Gill said the tour helicopters fly too close over the Haena-Wainiha area. He said it's a main stop on every tour as the choppers go from the Na Pali Coast to Hanalei.
"It's a constant presence in our eyes and ears," Gill said.
Now, he said, he's worried that after three crashes close by, including the two crashes this past week and a 2005 crash less than a mile from Sunday's site, the situation will get worse.
But the Federal Aviation Administration says the accident rate for tour aircraft in Hawaii is not increasing.
There have been 26 fatalities from seven *air tour crashes over the past 12 years in Hawaii, none of them in 2006, compared to 48 in the previous 12 years, said spokesman Ian Gregor.
Since Oct. 26, 1994, commercial air tour operators in Hawaii have had to comply with regulations much stricter than in the rest of the country.
That was when the FAA imposed an emergency rule in response to both a steep increase in the number of fatal accidents involving air tour aircraft between 1991 and 1994 and to the causes of the accidents.
During the nine-year period between 1982 and 1991, there were 11 air tour accidents in Hawaii and 24 fatalities, according to the FAA. In the next three years, between 1991 and 1994, there were 20 air tour accidents and 24 fatalities.
The causes of the accidents ranged from engine power loss to bad weather. The FAA said factors that contributed to the causes and seriousness of the accidents included inadequate preflight planning for weather and routes, lack of survival equipment and flying at low altitudes, which leave little room for recovery from flight problems.
The rule established additional operating procedures, minimum equipment requirements and operational limitations for tour aircraft in Hawaii.
Fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters were required to fly at a minimum altitude of 1,500 feet. However, the FAA granted exceptions to allow airplanes to fly as low as 1,000 feet and helicopters as low as 500 feet but only over areas without people, vessels, vehicles or structures.
Helicopters that fly over the ocean must have permanent or emergency pontoons and personal flotation gear on board for each occupant. Before takeoff, passengers need to be briefed on water ditching procedures, use of their flotation gear and how to get out of the aircraft in an emergency.
The rule withstood legal challenges in 1995 and in 2002. After its initial three-year authorization, the FAA extended the rule every three years.
In February, the FAA unveiled new rules for all air tour operators in the country that will take effect this summer.
Services in works for 'Helicopter Joe'
William Joseph "Helicopter Joe" Sulak, 59, of Princeville, Kauai, a Heli USA pilot, will be remembered in services that have yet to be scheduled.
He also was a U.S. Navy helicopter pilot who served in the Vietnam War.
Sulak died in the crash of a tour helicopter Thursday at Princeville Airport. He was the pilot. Three passengers were also killed and three others injured.
He was born in Waco, Texas. He is survived by son Andrew J., daughter Carrie M., sisters Susan Sulak and Sylvia Puffer, and a grandchild.
Thursday, March 15, 2007
» A total of 26 people were killed in seven fatal air tour crashes in Hawaii in the 12 years since 1994, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. A story on Page A6 in yesterday's morning edition incorrectly said there had been seven fatalities in crashes during that same period.