September 24, 2020
9/24/20120 Written testimony:
Helicopter tours fly as often, whenever and wherever they want. There is no enforcement of height, sound or route restrictions. No citations and no enforcement is unacceptable. Complaints to FAA and DOT go nowhere. The Hawaii Helicopters Association (HHA) does nothing to monitor its paying members and has a conflict of interest when it comes to establishing and enforcing any restrictions or safety measures on themselves. The industry treats regulators and legislators to boon doggles in neighbor island resorts and gains favorable tax exemptions from GET based on an old Aloha Airlines court case which should not apply to tour helicopters. They pollute our air, upset the peace and quiet of our homes, invade our privacy with overhead flights and are safety hazards to people on the ground, their passengers and the tour operators who often encounter malfunctions of their equipment.
Hawaii was successful in disallowing aerial advertising based on the detriment in quality of life of Hawaii residents and visitors. This same restriction should apply to tour helicopters. They should be restricted in numbers of flights per day, hours of operation and days of operation. Like any other business in the state, tour helicopters should have to report their activities, should pay a fee based on number of flights, should be required to report on any/all violations of air-space and any unexpected/unauthorized landings/takeoffs.
Sincerest mahalo for you efforts on this helicopter matter. I’ve researched many aspects of this matter and am appalled by the FAA’s negligence in enforcing the laws pertaining to air tour operators over Hawaii’s skies. There seems to be numerous laws being violated with no enforcement and we tax paying citizens are made to constantly suffer at the profits of tour operators.
1) The National Parks Air Tour Management Act of 2000, aka Air Tours Act, mandates a substantial restoration of natural quiet (50% of area free of air tours 75% of each day). Can provisions of this act be applicable to Hawaii State Parks, monuments, densely populated areas? If not, why would FAA be allowed discriminate against the State parks and only favor federal parks?
2) Under Air Tour Act, operators are required to prepare an Air Tour Management Plan (ATMP) overseen by FAA and NPS (National Parks Service). This plan requires public review and consultation with Indian Tribes. Similarly, can we require public meetings and consultation with DHHL (representing tribal lands)?
3) The FAA Modernization Act of 2012 allowed FAA and NPS to form voluntary agreements with tour operators. However, the requirements to hold public meetings and consult with Indian Tribes was not eliminated. Therefore public hearings and consultation with DHHL (similar to tribes) should be required.
4) In 2012, the FAA took action to mandate the Long Island North Shore Helicopter route (restricting helicopters from flying over certain residential areas of Long Island and requiring them to travel over the ocean). Under section 182 of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, the FAA is required to hold public meetings and solicit public comments on noise impacts, enforcements and alternatives or supplemental routes. If Long Island can have such requirements, why can’t Hawaii residents have at least the same requirements?
5) Under 14 C.F.R. Part 91 commercial air tour operators must individually apply for and receive deviation authority in LOA B548 prior to conducting operations below 1,500 feet AGL. Is this happening? According to FAA, no monitoring is occurring. If violations are occurring, are operators being cited or are any disciplinary actions being taken? Special training is required to operate below 1,500 AGL. Is anyone confirming this training is occurring at all and if not, what are the consequences of failure to comply? If they are, can we see any reports of citations or evidence of compliance?
6) The Hawaii Air Tour Common Procedures Manual was prepared by the Honolulu Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) in 2008. This manual describes the special training to be able to operate below 1,500 AGL. This manual also requires operators to obtain OPSPEC B048 authorization. Is this requirement being met? This Manual is over 10 years old and oversight has been turned over to the Hawaii Helicopter Association (HHA). HHA is a trade Association of Helicopter business owners and operators. This is a clear conflict of interest. Why would responsibility for operator safety guidelines be turned over to the operators? It seems grossly negligent of the FAA and Honolulu FSDO to delegate safety guidelines to the helicopter trade association or owners of the tour helicopters! Not surprising, the draft is over 10 years old and incomplete at this time. Can we get the latest copy of this document? Can we fix this conflict of interest?
7) 14 C.F.R. Part 36 Subpart H defines noise limits as 82dB SEL (Sound Exposure Level). The CRS report cites 7 of the 9 helicopters with flyover noise levels exceeding this limit. It seems most of the helicopters are violating the SEL minimums. These helicopters should be grounded immediately. What are the consequences for violating this statue and who is supposed to be enforcing these requirements?
8) 14 C.F.R. Part 91 requires that operators must remain in a 25 mile radius from the airport they departed from. Since Oahu is 30 miles wide, 44 miles long and 112 miles around, it seems a circle island tour would far exceed the 25 mile radius restriction. Is there a way to determine the actual radius these helicopters are flying? Are violations of this requirement being cited and what are the consequences of these violations?
9) Helicopters violate the 1,500 AGL limit without citation or implications. It seems they should not be flying lower over “densely populated areas” and if lower cloud levels exist, they should be changing course and going offshore (or just flying off-shore). I’ve not seem any specific definition of densely populated areas. Is there a clear definition and are there any greater restrictions against flying in these areas? If not, we seem to need legislation which reduces the risk of loss of life and personal property.
10) City and State can and should ground air tour operators until these safety and noise problems are addressed. They allow them to depart from our airports. They should have restrictions on time of day, day of week and frequency of flights.
E Ola Pono,
Live a good and balanced life
David K. Laeha, CPA
CFO Hawaii LLC