After 14 Casualties, Case Wants Stricter Aircraft Regulations

Aug 29, 2019

Updated: Aug. 29, 7:02 a.m.

Hawaii Congressman Ed Case is calling for stricter federal regulations on air tour operations in the wake of recent crashes in Kailua and at Dillingham Airfield.

Case told reporters Wednesday that the number of commercial helicopter and small plane flights are increasing, disrupting communities statewide.   

Eleven people died after a skydiving plane crashed at Dillingham Airfield in June. Three people aboard an air tour perished when their helicopter went down on a residential street in Kailua.  

The congressman said while the Federal Aviation Administration has jurisdiction over the tour aircraft, it hasn't adopted the safety recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates transportation accidents. 

Under Case's bill called the Safe and Quiet Skies Act, the FAA would be required to approve the safety measures, such as one requiring aircraft to fly at least 1,500 feet above ground.  

“Contrary to what some of the tour helicopter operators will tell you, this is not a tourist island or a tourist state,” Case said. “This is a state of 1.4 million residents where we host tourists, but not at the expense of our safety, not at the expense of our community.” 

Case’s proposal would also prohibit commercial air tour flights from flying over national parks and military installations. To combat noise disruptions in residential areas, there would also be a 55 decibel sound limit for the tour aircraft. 

“We now have the technology to have much quieter airplanes,” Case said. “Yes, they are more expensive, but that’s the price to be paid for flying over residential areas.”

In addition to national requirements, states could enforce their own requirements on commercial air tour companies. 

If Case's proposal is adopted, companies that fail to comply with the new regulations could face fines or lose their certifications and permits to operate. 

Case plans to submit his proposed legislation to Congress when he returns to Washington, D.C., in September. 

Meanwhile, the Honolulu City Council is scheduled to take up a resolution on Thursday to "more effectively regulate air tour helicopters and small commercial aircraft operations on Oahu."

The resolution calls on the FAA to enforce the minimum 1,500-foot altitude flying requirement for tour helicopters and aircraft. According to the resolution, virtually all tour companies have been granted waivers from the requirement, placing neighborhoods at risk. 

The council's Committee on Public Safety and Welfare takes up the matter at 9 a.m. at Honolulu Hale.