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Deb Laeha

January 26, 2021

I live in Maunawili on Oahu. Pre-Covid, the volume of tour helicopters over Maunawili/Olomana (based on data from the FlightRadar24 app) had reached a tipping point averaging one overhead every 4 to 5 minutes from @ 7 am to 6 pm—EVERY SINGLE DAY! Because we live in a valley, the noise from these helicopters is particularly loud because it reverberates off of the mountains.

These tour helicopters fly under Visual Flight Rules (VFR) and are not equipped with the instrumentation needed to fly under cloudy conditions. Despite this, tour operators fly over Windward Communities even in rainy, cloudy conditions when the Koʻolau Mountains are completely fogged in. This creates incredibly unsafe conditions as was evidenced by the tragic helicopter accident that occurred on April 29, 2019, when a tour helicopter pilot became disoriented during overcast conditions and crashed in the middle of Kailua Townʻs main street, killing 3, but miraculously sparing the lives of those on the ground. Because tour helicopters in Hawaii are only capable of operating under VFR, it is especially dangerous to those of us living in Windward Communities where weather and wind conditions, especially near the mountains, are unpredictable (which tour operators have openly acknowledged).

The tour helicopter industry has been allowed to operate virtually unregulated in the Islands for decades. These helicopters fly whenever, wherever they want with the only requirement to “fly neighborly” and “safely”, at an altitude of 1,500 ft or higher. This leaves things WIDE OPEN to interpretation and has produced a wild-wild west mentality in our skies.

I attended the recent HANSTF meeting held on 1/19/21 and was extremely disconcerted to hear that the helicopter tour industry will now be given even more autonomy to manage/monitor themselves as well as to deviate from the 1.500 ft requirement. I was hoping that HANSTF would represent the COMMUNITY and not be just another talking head for the helicopter tour industry.

For the health, safety, and well-being of our communities, something needs to be done to control the volumes and routes of tour helicopters. We kamaaina should be valued over the tourist buck.

Post Author: HANSTF