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New safety measures sought for air tours

LIHU‘E — A quaternary of federal representatives is aiming to improve air tour safety and reduce noise disturbances for residents across the Hawaiian Island chain.

U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz and Mazie K. Hirono and U.S. Reps. Ed Case and Jill Tokuda, all Hawai‘i Democrats, are backing two federal bills that would require new safety measures for aircraft tours.

The Air Tour and Skydiving Safety Improvement Act would create new safety standards to protect passengers on air tours and improve the safety of skydiving flights in Hawai‘i, and across the United States.

The Hawai‘i Air Tour Management Act would require the Federal Aviation Administration to work with the state of Hawai‘i in order to create a new management plan that reduces the noise of such tours.

The tours are wildly popular on Kaua‘i, as evidenced by the scores of helicopters that launch from Lihu‘e Airport every month. But those tours come at a price.

“The constant noise and tragic number of accidents we’ve seen in Hawai‘i have made it clear that we need to do more to both make air tours less disruptive for residents and safer for passengers and pilots,” said Schatz in a statement on Thursday, April 13, 2023.

“Our two bills will apply new standards to make air tours safer, help air tour companies operate more responsibly, and reduce noise.”

The effort to make air tours safer comes amid a number of fatal crashes over the years in the Hawaiian Islands, including a helicopter tour crash on the Napali Coast of Kaua‘i that killed seven people in December 2019.

“Air tours contribute to Hawai‘i’s tourism economy, but repeated crashes and safety incidents have underscored the need to do more to protect passengers, operators and communities,” said Hirono in a statement on April 13.

“Safety must be the top priority for air tour operators. This bill will help prevent future tragedies by strengthening the safety regulations governing air tours in Hawai‘i and across the country.”

The federal lawmakers are also taking aim at the noise pollution caused by helicopter tours.

“Severe safety and community disruption concerns from tour helicopters and small aircraft operations have been rampant for several years, if not decades, and it is ignoring the facts and reality to assume the operators will self-regulate or that the Federal Aviation Administration will do so in any meaningful way,” said Case in a statement on April 13.

“Clearly, Congress must act to require reasonable regulation to protect lives and property, and preserve communities, as the operators and FAA will not.”

Because of a loophole in federal law, certain commercial air tour operators are subject to less rigorous safety standards. The air tour management act would close that loophole and bring affected commercial air tour operators in line with more stringent safety and training standards.

“I am pleased to introduce the Air Tour and Skydiving Safety Improvement Act and co-lead the Hawai‘i Air Tour Management Act with my delegation colleagues to increase safety in our skies and address noise pollution,” said Tokuda in a statement on April 13.

“Activities popular with tourists, like helicopter tours and skydiving, impact the daily lives of locals, and we need to make sure that these operations are conducted safely and that our policies are fostering an environment of respect and sustainable use of Hawai‘i’s air space and natural resources.”

The Air Tour and Skydiving Safety Improvement Act, which was originally introduced by Schatz in 2020, is sitting before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. The Hawai‘i Air Tour Management Act, which was introduced by Schatz on March 30, 2023, is also sitting before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.


Wyatt Haupt Jr., editor, can be reached at 808-245-0457 or
Source: The Garden Island

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