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Sunday, July 1, 2007

Rotorcraft Report: Industry, FAA Weigh More Focus on Tours

Building on what they are calling a highly successful air-tour safety forum in Hawaii, industry and FAA leaders are developing plans for similar meetings to address concerns and misconceptions about air-tour operations elsewhere in the United States.

Helicopter Assn. International President Matt Zuccaro told Rotor & Wing at the Paris Air Show last month that leaders of that group and the U.S. aviation agency are in the initial stages of planning a forum in Las Vegas to cover air-tour operations over and around that city and the nearby Grand Canyon. That may be followed by a forum in Alaska covering air tours there.

The goal of the Hawaii Air Tour Safety Forum, held May 22-23 in Honolulu, was "to create a close working relationship with the local FAA Flight Standards District Office and air-tour operators." Subsequent forums in the continental United States would share that goal.

"I can say with confidence the forum was a definite success," Zuccaro said of the Honolulu meeting. It generated "very productive, positive feedback" from both operators and FAA inspectors.

The meeting, co-sponsored by HAI and the FAA, was prompted by concerns that air-tour operations in Hawaii are at a point where the U.S. emergency medical service sector was two years ago: chronic safety issues are causing frequent accidents but are not being addressed aggressively or collectively enough by industry or the government.

Two years ago, the EMS sector in the U.S. faced a chronic accident rate and special investigations of its safety practices by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, the FAA, and Congress — and the negative press associated with all that.

The May meeting also was provoked by new regulatory requirements on all tour operators and three recent Hawaiian events — the March 8 crash of a Eurocopter AS350BA at Princeville that killed four, the March 11 crash of an McDonnell Douglas 369FF at Haena that killed, and the March 28 hard landing of an AS350BA at Kahului.

There has been another air-tour accident in Hawaii since then.

More than 120 people attended the Hawaii meeting, including HAI officials, FAA Flight Standards Director Jim Ballough and representatives of all branches of that agency, and numerous Hawaii-based air-tour operators. Also attending were officials of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board.

They spent the two days reviewing safety and operating environments for air tours. Presentations included safety overviews of Hawaii, Alaska, and Grand Canyon air-tour operations, the NTSB Hawaii air-tour report, human factors, enhanced weather reporting technologies, safety management systems, accident investigations protocols, FAA Part 135 operational control, the National Air Tour Safety Standards final rule, an automatic dependent surveillance (ADS-B) proposal for Hawaii, and the Air Tour Management Program for U.S. national parks..

A workshop followed that on building a closer working relationship all the parties. As a result of the forum, an industry/regulatory working group is being established to review the relative data, and come up with solutions to the issues and concerns raised in the forum.

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