The Helicopter Association International (HAI) recently hosted a series of meetings in Las Vegas aimed at deflecting recent NTSB criticism of the industry and heading off any possible new FAA regulations or restrictions. The NTSB is calling for stricter FAA en route surveillance of Grand Canyon area air-tour operators based on its findings from two fatal helicopter accidents there in 2001 and 2003.
The NTSB also called for more rigorous safety audits, lengthy retention of passenger records and contact information and more precise language in the audit program guidance materials. The FAA has until the end of this month to respond formally to the NTSB’s recommendations.
The air-tour industry generally takes the view that the NTSB’s recommendations are excessive and are based on isolated incidents the industry has already addressed voluntarily. “This information [in the NTSB report] is five to six years old,” said HAI president Matt Zucarro.
The FAA and the NTSB participated in the meetings.
Steve Bassett, president of the U.S. Air Tour Association, said the message that the industry presented to the FAA and the NTSB was “there is not a safety problem.”
Since special flight rules were adopted for Grand Canyon air tours “there has not been an accident in the Grand Canyon, and the safety record is phenomenal. It is clear that there isn’t an air safety problem out there,” Bassett said. “The Grand Canyon is [already] the most heavily regulated airspace with regard to air touring. Eyes and ears are on the operators constantly.”
Zucarro remains optimistic that the industry can work out an accommodation with the FAA. “I think the issue here is to identify common areas to improve operational efficiency and safety and to get the FAA and the NTSB to rethink the current rules discussion that focuses on the Grand Canyon situation.”