Friday, February 16, 2007
Pilot Error in Tour Crashes
The helicopter was not equipped with flotation equipment and sank quickly after hitting the water. Although each occupant wore a waist pouch containing a vest-type personal flotation device (PFD) and received instruction in its use, not all were able to don the PFD, exit the helicopter and properly inflate the PFD. One surviving passenger stated that when the helicopter touched down and rolled on its side the cabin was engulfed in water within about three seconds.
A recently released final rule for air tour operators includes the requirement for flotation for all over-water flights. The board also cited the unavailability of timely weather information and recommended the FAA require local weather training for newly hired Hawaii air tour pilots as well as air tour operational practices. It also wants on-board weather technology required as well as beefed up FAA surveillance.
A second accident involving Bali Hai Helicopter tours in 2004, drew similar conclusions when the board stated the probable cause was "the pilot's decision to continue flight into an area of turbulent, reduced visibility, weather conditions, which resulted in the pilot's spatial disorientation and loss of control of the helicopter." The flight crashed into mountainous terrain and the pilot and all four passengers were killed. A review of the eight weather-related accidents that have occurred in Hawaii since 1994 found that four involved pilots who were relatively new to air tour operations in Hawaii, three of whom, including the accident pilot, had been operating for less than two months. The Board cited the pilot's inexperience in assessing local weather conditions as a contributing factor and recommended that the FAA require a cue-based training program for pilots that specifically addresses local weather phenomena and in-flight decision-making.
Bali Hai's operational practices were cited as a contributing cause and the Board recommended that the FAA establish best scheduling practices to ensure acceptable pilot performance and safety and require commercial air tour operators to adhere to these practices. In addition to challenging scheduling practices, the review of Bali Hai's operations found significant discrepancies with aircraft maintenance procedures and logbooks. Although under the jurisdiction of the Honolulu Flight Standards District Office (FSDO), because Bali Hai operated under the less stringent 14 CFR Part 91 operating rules, there are no requirements for FAA inspection of operations. In fact, prior to this accident, Bali Hai had never received an FAA operations inspection.
The lack of FAA surveillance was cited as a contributing cause and the Board recommended that the FAA develop and enforce safety standards for all commercial air tour operators that include, at minimum, pilot training programs, special airspace restrictions, maintenance policies, and flight scheduling procedures. The Board also noted that these recommended safety standards are not required by the FAA's recently released 14 CFR Part 136 air tour rules.