(BIVN) – Two federal bills dealing with air tours seek to protect flight passengers and reduce noise impacts for Hawaiʻi residents.
Both air tour noise and safety have been critical issues affecting the islands. A senate news release reports that Hawaiʻi has seen the highest number of deaths in air tour crashes of any state since the National Transportation Safety Board began keeping such records. Complaints about tour helicopter noise are also common.
From a news release:
U.S. Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) and Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawai‘i) and U.S. Representatives Ed Case (D-Hawai‘i) and Jill Tokuda (D-Hawai‘i) introduced two bills that will improve air tour safety and reduce noise for local residents. The Air Tour and Skydiving Safety Improvement Act, first introduced by Senators Schatz and Hirono in 2020, will create new safety standards that protect passengers on air tours and improve the safety of skydiving flights in Hawai‘i and across the country. The Hawai‘i Air Tour Management Act will require the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to work with the State of Hawai‘i to create a new management plan that reduces the noise of these tours.
“The constant noise and tragic number of accidents we’ve seen in Hawai‘i have made it clear that we need to do more to both make air tours less disruptive for residents and safer for passengers and pilots,” Senator Schatz said. “Our two bills will apply new standards to make air tours safer, help air tour companies operate more responsibly, and reduce noise.”
“Air tours contribute to Hawai‘i’s tourism economy, but repeated crashes and safety incidents have underscored the need to do more to protect passengers, operators, and communities,” said Senator Hirono. “Safety must be the top priority for air tour operators. This bill will help prevent future tragedies by strengthening the safety regulations governing air tours in Hawai‘i and across the county.”
“Severe safety and community disruption concerns from tour helicopter and small aircraft operations have been rampant for several years if not decades, and it is ignoring the facts and reality to assume the operators will self-regulate or that the Federal Aviation Administration will do so in any meaningful way,” said Representative Case. “Clearly Congress must act to require reasonable regulation to protect lives and property and preserve communities as the operators and FAA will not.”
“I am pleased to introduce the Air Tour and Skydiving Safety Improvement Act and co-lead the Hawai‘i Air Tour Management Act with my delegation colleagues to increase safety in our skies and address noise pollution. Activities popular with tourists, like helicopter tours and skydiving, impact the daily lives of locals and we need to make sure that these operations are conducted safely and that our policies are fostering an environment of respect and a sustainable use of Hawaiʻi’s air space and natural resources,” said Representative Tokuda. “These bills will do just that by ensuring that commercial tour operators meet many of the same safety requirements as commercial and charter flights, resulting in better management of Hawaiʻi’s airspace as a whole.”
In Hawai‘i, at least 85 people have died in air tour crashes since the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) began keeping records – the highest number of any state. Because of a gap in federal law, certain commercial air tour operators are subject to less stringent safety standards – known as “Part 91” under U.S. Federal Aviation Regulations – that were intended for small, private recreational flights. Most commercial air tours and charter flight operators are subject to more rigorous safety and training standards, known as “Part 135.”
The Air Tour and Skydiving Safety Improvement Act closes the loophole for Part 91 commercial air tour operators and improves Part 135 regulations to be more in line with those of larger flight operations. The bill also requires small aircraft tour operators to use warning systems for remote terrain flights, begins a process to improve data collection to track these flights, and aims to improve pilot training and aircraft maintenance for parachute operators. It is supported by the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, Helicopter Association International, National Air Transportation Association, and National Business Aviation Association.
The Hawai‘i Air Tour Management Act would require the FAA Administrator to work with the Governor of Hawai‘i to establish an air tour management plan for all parts of the state not already covered by a National Park air tour management plan.
On June 8, 2022, a tour helicopter coming from Kona crashed in Kaʻū, injuring six people.
In August 2018, residents inundated with loud tour helicopter noise during the eruption of Kīlauea volcano in Puna spoke out during a public meeting on the issue.
The State Legislature has considered the issue in the past, but has made little progress due to federal preemption. For example, in the 2023 session, lawmakers discussed House Bill 1201 concerning helicopter noise pollution. The measure would have given individuals the right to bring a civil action against air noise violators. The bill was eventually deferred in committee.
Representative Ed Case has been working on the air tour issues in Congress.