AP and Reuters

US FAA proposes improvements to Hawaii air tourism safety


Waterfalls, formed by afternoon rains stream down the Koolau mountains in Kailua, Hawaii December 24, 2010. REUTERS/Hugh Gentry/File Photo

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration on Friday proposed new procedures to improve the safety of Hawaii tourist sightseeing flights by plane and helicopter after a series of fatal crashes including one in 2019 that killed seven people in bad weather.

The FAA proposed a new process for air tour operators to obtain authorization to safely descend below specific altitudes to avoid flying into bad weather. FAA Acting Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety David Boulter said the new process will help prevent situations in which pilots encounter poor visibility and become disoriented.

The regulatory agency also unveiled proposals to bolster safety management practices for Hawaii air tours including pilot training and aircraft equipment. The new safeguards are expected to be in place in early 2024.

The FAA also is encouraging Hawaii air tour operators to adopt Safety Management Systems – programs to manage risks and assure the effectiveness of safety controls – while the agency finalizes rules to mandate them.

The National Transportation Safety Board last year cited the FAA decision not to implement some safety recommendations as contributing to the cause of a fatal Hawaii air tour helicopter crash that killed seven people in December 2019.

​The seven-seat Airbus AS350 B2 helicopter crashed in deteriorating weather in a remote area of wooded terrain near Kekaha, Hawaii. The NTSB said the highly experienced, 69-year-old pilot flew into a mountainous region and was unable to exit the area of limited visibility.

From 2000 through 2019, there were 11 fatal helicopter tour crashes resulting in 45 deaths in Hawaii, according to government statistics.

NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy said last year the safety board previously made 11 recommendations to the FAA to prevent accidents like the one in 2019 but they were not adopted.

FAA regulations require Hawaii air tour operators to fly at least at 1,500 feet (457 meters) above the surface unless they have authorization to fly lower. The proposed new process would help operators develop safety plans, the FAA said.

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