In the wake of the deadly Kauai helicopter crash last week, U.S. Congressman Ed Case has again called for stricter regulation of tour helicopters and small planes. But he acknowledges federal regulators may prove an obstacle.
“These tragedies are avoidable,” Case said. “The problem is, our federal regulators either believe they don’t have the authority to provide for these kinds of safety concerns or community disruption concerns or else they simply don’t want to.”
Case's proposed Safe and Quiet Skies Act, which he introduced in September, would require the Federal Aviation Administration to comply with recommendations by the National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates transportation accidents.
However, the FAA has resisted the board’s recommendations. Case said in a statement on Friday that while NTSB has placed tour helicopters and small plane safety improvements on its highest priority list, the FAA that regulates air operations "has not taken the NTSB’s concerns seriously."
In a statement, the FAA said while safety is the agency’s top priority, it has not found issues of concern that would apply to the tour industry statewide.
Case’s measure would also give local government more control over the regulation of the tour aircraft.
Although the U.S. House of Representatives has a Democratic majority, the measure would likely face opposition in the Republican-dominated Senate. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the air transport industry has donated $8.3 million more to Republicans than Democrats since 2016.
Case said the members of the bipartisan Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus generally backs his measure.
“They are definitely in support of the general principle of it, and I am also in support of their initiatives,” he said. “Given the fact that tour helicopters and small aircraft are really virtually unregulated throughout the country, these concerns are shared by other locations in our country.”
The congressman’s proposal has been referred to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
NTSB officials are on Kauai investigating the crash, which police said killed all seven people on board. It may be many months before the cause of the crash is determined.
Investigations take 12 to 24 months to complete, said NTSB spokesperson Eric Weiss. “We look at three major areas: the human, the machine and the environment.”
Regarding NTSB safety proposals, Weiss said: “We can make recommendations to anyone on what we’d like to see but we don’t have any regulatory or enforcement authority.”