Seven senior Capitol Hill Democrats introduced legislation in both the Senate and the House this week mandating the installation of helicopter terrain awareness and warning systems (HTAWS) and crash-resistant flight data and cockpit recorders on all transport-category (Part 29) turbine helicopters that can carry six or more passengers, regardless of the type of operation flown.
The Helicopter Safety Act of 2020 directs the FAA to develop the applicable regulations within 180 days of passage and implement them within one to two years after that. The bill provides that the FAA administrator may exempt any civilian helicopter from the regulations but must justify the exemption to relevant congressional committees.
This legislation is initially sponsored by Sens. Feinstein, Schumer, Harris, Blumenthal, Markey, and Gillibrand, as well as Rep. Brad Sherman. Feinstein and Sherman, both of California, were leading proponents of previous unsuccessful legislation calling on the FAA to increase minimum helicopter flight altitudes in the Los Angeles basin.
Citing NTSB safety recommendations since 2004 that have urged the FAA to mandate the equipment, Feinstein and Schumer referenced two recent high-profile fatal crashes, the FlyNYON tourist accident in New York City, in which five passengers died, and the California crash that killed Kobe Bryant and eight others this past January. The legislators believe that both accidents could have been prevented or the investigations benefitted from the safety devices, had they been installed.
Referencing the Bryant crash, Feinstein suggested that it could have been prevented with HTAWS. “If that helicopter had terrain awareness equipment, the tragedy may have been averted. This commonsense bill will save lives, and Congress should act to pass it immediately,” she said.