Rep. Case proposes to create 50 state FAAs regulating Heli Tours; consensus/voluntary rules more effective

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

 Tour Helicopter fly no lower than 1,500′ AGL

55 dbA maximum noise over occupied areas

Allow every state to impose greater restrictions 



“Citing a pair of recent high-profile helitour crashes in his home state, U.S. Rep. Ed Case (D-Hawaii) on August 28[1] 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;

 -forbidding pilots to act as tour narrators while flying.






-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.

scuttle federal preemption 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.”



 August 28, 2019

“Press Release

His measure targets increasing safety and disruption concerns in wake of recent fatal crashes

(Honolulu, HI) – U.S. Congressman Ed Case (Hawai‘i – District 1) today announced that he will introduce a measure in the U.S. House of Representatives to impose strict regulations on commercial tour operations to include helicopters and small planes.

Case’s proposed “Safe and Quiet Skies Act” would direct the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which has virtually exclusive jurisdiction over such aircraft, to adopt tighter safety recommendations long advanced by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

The “Safe and Quiet Skies Act” specifics would:

Require that tour flights fly above the 1,500-foot altitude over actual ground at all times with very limited exceptions for emergencies and takeoff/landing

Require tour flights over occupied areas (including residential, commercial and recreational areas) to be no louder than 55 dbA, the same level of noise commonly allowed for residential areas

Allow states and localities to impose additional requirements – stricter than the minimum national requirements called for in the act – on tour flights

Require that all regulations under this Act, in addition to any updates to any Air Tours Common Procedure Manuals (voluntary understandings between operators and the FAA), include public engagement

Prohibit tour flights over military installations, national cemeteries, national wilderness areas, national parks, and national wildlife refuges;

Apply the “sterile cockpit rule” to tour flights, which requires that pilots only focus on safely operating the aircraft and would define tour-giving and narrating as outside of the duties required for safe operation

Require FAA to implement NTSB recommendations regarding Part 135 regulations, which most tour flights fly under

Require all tour flights to fly under Part 135 regulations and prohibit tour flights from flying under less restrictive Part 91 regulations.

Attachment: Dear Colleague letter with copy of proposed legislation and section-by-section summary. “

[links on the site, copied here, do not work]

At a press conference, Rep. Case explained that his “Quiet and Safe Skies Act” is justified because

“Fact of the matter is though, contrary to what some of what the touring helicopters will tell you, this is not a tourist island. Or a tourist state. This is a state of 1.4 million residents where we host tourists, but not at the expense of our safety.”

“While that literal quote may have been misspoken, an absolute ban on these flights in his state and ALL STATES is a prime example of why Congress is not, by the Constitution, responsible for regulating. If, for example, there is a problem with flights over national parks and places like the Arizona memorial; the FAA could create such a limitation.

The 55 dbA would ground all helicopters everywhere.

Allowing individual states to impose their own limitations would create an additional 50 state FAA’s for heli tour flights. Balkanization has not been a serious point of Congressional debate for many, many years and different rules for different states creates confusion.

Clearly, there is a great deal of frustration over this issue; safety is a valid concern as well as the Hawaiian Heli Tours economic contribution to the state’s economy ($150 million). Rather than write legislation in absolutes, a better policy solution might be to convene a high level, consensus meeting at which the operators, the State, helicopter manufacturers, the Helicopter Association International, Hawai’i communities and the FAA’s operational and environmental experts to discuss alternatives. History clearly demonstrates that such voluntary solutions are more effective in terms of the quality/relevance of the operational standards and in terms of the time between initiation of such a conference and implementation of the preferred program. Participation by all of the stakeholders also highly correlates with “buy in” with the standards.

[1] As of September 17, 2019 a search for the “Safe and Quiet Skies Act” in CONGRESS.GOV found no such bill introduced by Rep. Case.


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