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Thursday, March 1, 2007

Rotorcraft Report: Tour Operators Succeed in Tempering New U.S. Rules

Sightseeing and tour operators in the United States succeeded in tempering new federal regulations of their activities that have been in the works for more than a decade.

Most of the new FAA rules are to take effect 30 days after publication in the Federal Register, which was slated to be done in mid-February. Operators must show compliance with the new rules six months after that. New requirements for floats on helicopters used over water give operators 18 months to complete float modifications on their aircraft.

The FAA unveiled the new rules on the eve of a National Transportation Safety Board hearing into two recent sightseeing crashes: the Sept. 24, 2004 crash of a Bell 206B into mountainous terrain on the Hawaiian island of Kauai that killed all five on board and the Sept. 23, 2005 crash of a Eurocopter AS350BA near Haena, Hawaii in which three of the five passengers drowned.

According to the Helicopter Assn. International, the new rules remove proposed minimum altitudes as well as standoff-distance and cloud-clearance requirements contained in the original FAA proposal. Operators will continue to use the standards in effect prior to the new rules.

HAI also said the FAA did not adopt a proposal for revised deviation procedures; pilot deviations are permitted under the new standards in the event of an in-flight emergency.

The final rules do not negate the requirements of Special Federal Aviation Regulation (SFAR) 50-2 covering the Grand Canyon or SFAR 71 for Hawaii.

The new rules do require that all aircraft flown for hire over water and beyond power-off gliding distance from shore have approved flotation gear readily available to each occupant. They also require a passenger safety briefing before each flight. If a helicopter is required to have floats, it also must have life preservers.

In addition, the new rules extend the drug- and alcohol-testing requirements of FAR Parts 121 and 135 to sightseeing and air tour operators.

Part 121 and 135 commercial air tour operators who also conduct commercial tours under Part 91 must have both operations specifications and a letter of authorization to do so from their local FAA Flight Standards District Office. All operators must apply for and operate in accordance with a letter of authorization and comply with new data-reporting requirements.

The new rules can be viewed at www.faa.gov/regulations_policies/rulemaking/recently_published/

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