Bill Would Effectively End Most Heli Tourism in U.S.

 - August 29, 2019, 11:19 AM
A proposed bill from a Hawaii congressman would effectively end helitours in the U.S. It would impose a 55-dB noise limit on helicopters, which no current-production machine can meet—even the quiet Airbus EC130B4, which is operated by Hawaiian helitour operator Blue Hawaiian Helicopters, can't meet this threshold. (Photo: Blue Hawaiian)

Citing a pair of recent high-profile helitour crashes in his home state, U.S. Rep. Ed Case (D-Hawaii) on August 28 proposed legislation that would all but eliminate the industry.

His “Safe and Quiet Skies Act” would direct the FAA to impose a series of restrictions on the industry, including flying no lower than 1,500 feet agl; prohibiting flights over military installations, national cemeteries, national wilderness areas, national parks, and national wildlife refuges; and forbidding pilots to act as tour narrators while flying. It would also require helicopters to have a noise signature no greater than 55 dbA during overflight over any “occupied area,” be it commercial, residential, or recreational—a standard that no currently certified helicopter can meet. 

The bill would also scuttle federal pre-emption with regard to airspace and air operations by giving states and localities the power to “impose additional requirements—stricter than the minimum national requirements called for in the act—on tour flights.”

At a press conference this week in Honolulu announcing the legislation, Case proclaimed, “My Safe and Quiet Skies Act will further mandate strict regulation of commercial air tour operations to address defense risks and community disruption, including no overflights of defense, park, cemetery, and other sensitive installations and minimum altitude maximum noise limits on all flights. Additionally, it will allow states, localities, and tribes to impose stricter regulations on tour flights in their jurisdictions, to include time, route and frequency, with required public engagement.” 

Case’s bill is just the latest in a series offered by congressional representatives in recent years designed to restrict helicopter operations from New York to Los Angeles that attempted to, among other things, impose minimum helicopter operating altitudes, set a curfew for hours of operation, and mandate flight paths. The FAA has deemed most of these efforts as unworkable and hazards to flight safety.  

His bill would have a major impact on Hawaii. The Hawaii Helicopter Association estimates that helicopter operators annually contribute $150 million to the state economy. The association points out that it has endeavored to address the concerns of citizen groups and regulators by investing more than $100 million in quiet technology helicopters such as the Airbus EC130B4 in recent decades, adopting “fly neighborly” programs as advocated by the Helicopter Association International (HAI), and employing the PlaneNoise noise reporting and measuring system since 2017. 

The April 29 fatal crash of an air-tour Robinson R44 into the street in a suburban Honolulu residential neighborhood appears to be providing the most recent impetus for not only Case’s bill, but also similar moves from state legislators. Following that crash, Hawaii State Rep. Cynthia Thielen (R) called on the FAA to prohibit air tours over residential areas and national parks and called for the immediate grounding of helitour flights in Hawaii pending an investigation.

All three aboard that aircraft were killed. The pilot was new to Hawaii. In its preliminary report on the accident, the NTSB noted that weather three miles from the accident site was reported as visibility four statute miles, broken clouds at 1,800 and 2,800 feet agl, overcast clouds at 3,900 feet agl, and light rain.


Just another example of what the world will look like if we put democrats in control. They will prohibit everything they don't like and make the rest of us pay for stuff they do like. Enjoy!

But it's not just Democrats: “Hawaii State Rep. Cynthia Thielen (R) called on the FAA to prohibit air tours over residential areas and national parks and called for the immediate grounding of helitour flights in Hawaii pending an investigation.”

Instead, it's people in Congress who don't understand aviation. That's why associations such as HAI, NBAA, and NATA were created and are still around many, many years later.

It’s amazing how hypocritical most congresspersons are on aviation issues. This bill proposal shows just that. And yet when it comes to flying themselves, they want to fly from an airport close to densely populated areas (Reagan National) instead of using Dulles, want cheap fares, and won’t allow pilot unions to strike (RLA) because they think airlines are “essential” for the country. Where do they think new pilots come from? I wonder what solution these congresspersons have for the economic losses incurred if this bill actually passes. I wonder how Hawaiis’ congressional delegation would feel if aviation was grounded in Hawaii and they had to go by boat or ship to get around?

Aloha, welcome to Hawaii, the state most hostile to aviation in the entire country, whose main airport, HNL, an airport called out as being unfriendly and confusing to passengers, is run by bureaucrats who admit, publicly, that they know nothing about aviation. Hawaii is also the only state where it is illegal to build kit aircraft (because it is illegal to use a hangar for anything but storage of airworthy aircraft, and all airports and all hangars on them are owned by the state). Such legislation is typical of the state's general attitude towards aviation. If you love general aviation, never move to Hawaii, just visit and enjoy the beaches. But be advised that HNL where you will land is confusing, and you will have a hard time getting a taxi to your hotel 'cause the taxi service is a joke too, and the taxis don't know how to get you where you're going and will give you attitude. I've lived in Hawaii for 45 years, so I am in a position to know.