Summer, beaches, aviation & SAFETY: the aerial banner towers

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Anyone, who has spent a significant amount of time on the beaches in the summer, has strong (fond?) memories of watching a small, somewhat noisy (it’s why you looked up to see the message) airplane flying past your place near the waves. It was a part of the shore experience everywhere people vacationed by the sea.

One would suspect that in the world of low cost, high measurable internet advertising that the banner aircraft business is dying. So what’s up with this most specialized form of commercial aviation? 

The below article says that this low tech aviation segment continues as an effective media for promoting beers, restaurants, sun tan lotion, events, etc. In New Jersey, the economic numbers do not indicate growth in the number of operators; fifteen years ago there were 15 banner-plane operators, now there are 10. The rates suggest that the smaller capacity among the operators has resulted in a good sales market with rates of between $200 to $3,000 per banner, based on the length and number of flights.

The owner of a banner towing company which has been in business for 70 years said, “We’re taking the message directly to the customers…They can’t help but look up. It’s a captive audience. It’s a big part of the shore experience and has been for 70 years.” Her planes have full schedules flying over the Jersey resort communities.

The author of the below article contacted the NTSB to check on these flyers’ safety and the response was that there have been “427 accidents nationwide since 1975 involving banner planes, 89 of them fatal. In New Jersey, there have been 50 accidents, including six that were fatal, since 1975.” The board in 1998 analyzed these accidents and made recommendations that the FAA required special training for banner towing pilots. In that 80% of the problems involved tangling of the tow lines and resulted in reduction of power or control, the NTSB cited a device designed to stop entanglement.

Probably based on the limited size of the aerial banner business, the FAA deferred on requiring a training program (heavy cost to design the education and a small population of pilots to charge for those expenses). Instead it issued a twenty four page manual written to educate the industry on the risks, including very instructive pictures to assure that pilots and ground crew know the critical points of inspection. Recently (01/16/2015) the FAA issued a Safety Alert for Operators (SAFO) which highlights an area of particular risk, where these airplanes operate near parasail flights.

A key element to both of these safety advisories is that the operator needs to file for and receive a Certificate of Authorization. That’s a term with a good deal of recent prominence among §333 operators.

For many folks, July and August are times of rest and relaxation. For the banner towers, this is a period of careful concentration and attention to details, not “lazy, hazy days of summer.”


ARTICLE Banner planes remain key way to advertise at the shore

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