Aviation Safety/Noise Problems in Hawai’i need to be addressed
Existing FAA Manual and HDOT Guide should be the alpha points
Safety and Noise Issues can be resolved by informed compromise
The 49th and 50th states are uniquely different from the continental states. Both rely on aviation as a major, essential aspect of their transportation. Alaska has had and continues to have safety concerns; so much so that it has its own aviation regime. That approach is still being refined.
Hawai’i similarly faces unusual issues, too. As explained in the below article, recent accidents have added visibility to the debate. Politicians have entered the fray with the usual poorly crafted proposed solutions. The Aloha State is blessed with an ecology that is a major attraction for tourists. The visitors, who come to these islands, number more than 8.2 million people visited the area in 2014, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority. Aviation brings them to Hawai’i and then moves them among the islands. Aerial tours contribute as much as $150 million a year to the state’s economy.
Flying within the five islands to which tourists visit poses another problem—noise. The tranquility of these environments can be disturbed by flights seeking to see the topography, geology and ecology indigenous to this state.
Hawaii Air Tour Task Force recognizes its dual challenge and proposes to address both soon. The first task should be to update the Hawaii Air Tour Common Procedures Manual, a 2008 document and its companion the Hawaii Airports and Flying Safety Guide, issued in 2013 (cover images). So much has been added to the helicopter safety knowledge base since then, i.e.
Both of the documents being reassessed have attempted to balance safety and environmental considerations, paramount to long term success as viewed by the community and the operators. A set of rules that optimize both safety and environmental impact is achievable. Absolutism for either of factors is a tactic doomed to failure. The advocates for the community and for industry need to understand the tradeoffs and be willing to compromise.
by Mark Huber
– January 15, 2020, 2:20 PM
Air tour stakeholders in Hawaii have formed a task force to deal with industry issues there following several high-profile accidents and legislative backlash from certain elected officials. The Hawaii Air Tour Task Force’s mission is to address safety and noise issues related to rotor- and fixed-wing aerial tours in the state. The task force said, “Community involvement, public outreach, and transparency will be prioritized in all recommendations from the task force to industry and regulators.” Initial members include the Hawaii Helicopter Association (HHA), Hawaii Department of Transportation Airports Division (HDOTA), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Helicopter Association International (HAI), elected officials and their representatives, and “other industry stakeholders.” Elected officials on the task force are state senator Lorraine Inouye and state representative Chris Lee. The FAA and U.S. Army and Navy are serving as technical advisors
The task force is seeking community involvement as it moves forward, said Justin Brooke, task force co-chair and president of the HHA. HDOTA is applying for grant funding from the FAA and will also commit state dollars to fund public meetings, produce a study, and make recommendations concerning the helicopter and fixed-wing tour industry. The task force’s formation is the next step forward on the part of the industry, regulators, and other interested parties to address the public’s concerns regarding helicopter and fixed-wing aerial tours in Hawaii.
Air tour operators have been under increased criticism and scrutiny following fatal helitour accidents in 2019 in Kauai and Oahu that collectively killed 10. In May, 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.
In August, U.S. Rep. Ed Case (D-Hawaii) proposed legislation that will all but eliminate the helitour industry nationwide. The “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.” 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 HHA 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 HAI, and employing the PlaneNoise noise reporting and measuring system since 2017.
There is too much at risk—Hawai’i’s environment and economy—for this collaborative effort to fail. Each side has valid concerns—some essential and some “nice-to-have’s”. Prioritizing those goals and understanding the interaction between safety and the environment are essential to coming to a reasonable and practical compromise. Some of the statements made by the two perspectives will be deal-breakers if urged during the discussions. The aviation concerns need to include community experts in their team as well as the kaiāulu would be well advised to find consultant which can give them insights into safety imperatives.
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