Hawaii Aviation Forums Aviation Legistation Hawaii Tour Helicopter Operations

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    • Garry
      Post count: 2

      Am interested in assembling here documentation on nuisance and dangers associated with tour helicopter operations at the Honolulu Airport, at Keehi Lagoon and over general populated areas around the state.  As a local, South Ramp, airline pilot and a tenant boater in Keehi Lagoon, I have submitted to the FAA, to NASA, and to the Hawaii Helicopter Association a number of complaint reports without results.  These reports have documented low level flights near and over taxiing aircraft and harbor boats (some with 60-70 foot masts) over the past couple years.  I’m not the only pilot nor boater who has objected to the type of startling and inconsiderate performance of many of the Oahu tour helicopters.  One of he most obvious problems at the HNL airport is that taxiing aircraft and maneuvering helicopters are not communicating with ATC on the same frequency.  Taxiing fixed-wing aircraft are using GRND CONTROL while the helicopters are using TOWER.  The result is that taxiing aircraft are often surprised at sudden appearances of low level helicopters from behind, overhead, or from the sides.

      I’m of the opinion that the State Legislature and the FAA must take on an obligation to reign in the helicopter operators to reduce the nuisance factor and to enhance safety to the Hawaii aviation community and to the general public.

      I can provide specific quotes from reports other pilots and I have submitted.  Please add comments as apply.  Thanks.

    • Rob Moore
      Post count: 30

      It appears the local helicopter group has not stepped up to talk to the local community to solve the concerns.  If they do not, I fear the legislatures will resolve the problem and not necessarily in aviation’s favor.  I asked our AOPA representative and our Hawaii Aviation Causus chair to host a meeting to discuss this.  I am hoping it happens but not holding out too much hope.

    • Garry
      Post count: 2

      The following is a letter I submitted to Congressman Ed Case.  I submitted copies to the various operators and agencies with interest:

      Dear Congressman Case:This is an edition, with added information, to an earlier letter I sent to you regarding tour helicopteroperations in Hawaii. I am also adding to the distribution of this input on the subject.Problem Description: As an active commercial aviator (Trans Air, at HNL) and a boater with a cruising sail boat at Keehi Lagoon Boat Harbor (adjacent to HNL airport), I am very aware of the problems with tour helicopter operations at HNL and over the Keehi Lagoon Boat Harbor. Many of the tour helicopters operate much too close to buildings, taxiing aircraft, and boats in the harbor. I have addressed the problems with the FAA FSDO at HNL and with Keehi Lagoon Boat Harbor without resolution nor feedback. Please call on me if you need testimony on these nuisance and dangerous operations.I, and at least one other Trans Air pilot, have reported on a number of occasions incidents of fixed-wing aircraft and helicopter interactions on the ramp near Lagoon Drive at the HNL airport which could beclassified as “close calls” or “near misses”. The problem at the airport relates to the fact that fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters occupy adjacent tenant ramps in close proximity and operate on different air traffic control frequencies when taxiing and departing/arriving.One HNL airport tour helicopter company operates from a ramp which is physically located behind active buildings adjacent to one of the runway/taxiway areas. This company’s helicopters are regularly air-taxiing (6-8 ft above the surface) between buildings and near parked aircraft with very limited space between the helicopters’ rotor blades and building walls or aircraft. This problem has been addressed with the FAA and with HNL Airport Management without resolution nor feedback.As an example of the problems existing in the Keehi Lagoon Boat Harbor, on Sunday, 5/19/19, at about9:20 AM, a Blue Hawaiian helicopter flew directly over my moored cruising sailboat. The helicopter was departing the HNL airport on a tour flight. My sailboat masthead is about 48 ft above the water surface. The helicopter missed the top of my mast by about 30 ft. Although this overflight was an extreme case,about one third of the departing tour helicopter (all companies) cross over the harbor boats at an altitudeof about 150 ft above the water. Many of the sailboats moored/docked in the harbor have masts taller than mine.Within the scope of your effort to resolve Hawaii tour helicopter issues with the state’s general population, please include assistance in resolving the dangerous helicopter activity at the HNL airport and over the Keehi Lagoon Boat Harbor.Thank you for your consideration.

      Garry V. Grofcsik Captain, Trans Air Executive Airlines of Hawaii

    • Claudio Friederich
      Post count: 15

      In fairness to the helicopter operators, when airplanes taxi around the south ramp, their wingtips are typically only feet apart from building walls, other aircraft wingtips, and other obstructions, because there is simply no other way.  We do not have the luxury of 300 foot wide taxiways in the ramp areas.  That is why we have all been taught to taxi slowly, carefully, and not have your head down or programming avionics while in motion.  I have operated at the south ramp regularly for nearly 15 years, and owned my own aircraft for over 10 of them.  Other aircraft regularly taxi around me from behind within ten feet, and helicopters on hover taxi or takeoff/landing similarly overfly me at probably not much more than 30 feet, and therefore part of our responsibility as pilots is to expect this and be aware of our surroundings to the extent possible.  As far as I have seen, everyone has been careful in that regard, and I know of no collision in the ramp areas.  Even if all the aircraft were on the same frequency, it would not make this easier, because it would cause such frequency congestion that the radio would become useless (frequency congestion is bad enough at HNL as it is).

      The one truly scary incident I ever had involving helicopters the military, not tour operators, is to blame for.  While operating in the south practice area, I once looked down and saw, one after the other, a fleet of half a dozen large army copters pass within a couple hundred feet below me, having apparently approached from my blind spot from the right and below, while I was fully in their forward view, and they never self-announced themselves until I was already on an evasive climb to avoid a collision.  No aircraft of any sort ever pulled a stunt like that on me in the ramp areas.

    • Claudio Friederich
      Post count: 15

      In the wake of the recent Novictor crash, rep. Cynthia Thielen and rep. Ed Case wrote to the FAA and the congressional delegation asking for the immediate grounding of all commercial helicopter operations until an investigation is completed.  Their letters are attached.  In response to this, I wrote similar letters to both of them advising them that grounding all helicopter operations for the entire duration of the investigation would destroy the whole local helicopter industry, and to see issues of noise complaints in perspective.  I have included the text of my letter, and rep. Ed Case’ response to it, below.



      While we are all saddened by the news of the recent crash of a tour helicopter in Kailua a few weeks ago, I am equally dismayed by your reaction to it.  In a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration on April 30, you joined with representative Cynthia Thielen in requesting help in immediately grounding all commercial helicopter operations in the entire state pending completion of an investigation.  An aircraft accident investigation, done thoroughly and properly, takes on the order of a year.  Grounding all commercial helicopter operations for even a fraction of that length of time would destroy Hawaii’s entire aerial tourism industry, as well as other industries depending on helicopters, and the impact of that would quickly be felt by the entire tourism industry in Hawaii at large.

      Hawaii has always had a love-hate relationship with tourism.  We love that the tourists flock to Hawaii spending money in our local shops, restaurants, and hotels.  We hate that they have overrun many of our most beautiful beaches.  But we cannot have it both ways.  Aerial tourism, in spite of concerns about noise that you cite, is a much less impactful mode of tourism than others.  Consider, for example, the documented damaging impact in many national parks, such as the Grand Canyon, of thousands of trampling human feet.  If the concerns you cite about  tour helicopters stem from noise, try close your eyes for a moment, and imagine: what would Hawaii be like if it were legal, for anyone, with no permit or authorization required, to purchase and install, in any location, including public property or property they do not even own, a siren, complete with flashing strobe lights and a 100 decibel howl, that goes off automatically, day or night, when triggered by the slightest breeze.  What if this were legal?  It is!  I am referring to the automatic car alarms that go off, typically with five different siren tones, flashing headlights, and honking horns, at the slightest touch.  Such devices have been condemned by consumer advocacy groups as useless for over thirty years.  If noise complaints are at issue, why are these beastly devices still legal in our state?

      Besides tourism, what other economic base does Hawaii have?  There is the Department of Defense, who fly aircraft that are much louder than any commercial aircraft.  Furthermore, military helicopters have crashed several times in Hawaii in recent years, and those onboard all lost their lives in these accidents.  Even if the entire history of Kahoolawe is overlooked, the record of the Department of Defense, both in regards to environmental concerns, public safety, and sensitivity to the concerns of the public at large has been dubious to say the least.  There is local agriculture, yes, but it is much too small in scale to sustain our state’s economy.  Hawaii cannot live on pineapple, papaya, and macadamia nut farming.  With all its problems, we depend on tourism, and tourism is still the best available economic option.  We must protect it.  We cannot afford to destroy a whole segment of it by grounding all commercial helicopter operations.  Please also consider that many, if not most, commercial air tour operators in Hawaii are among your constituency, and they look to you for protection as well.

      Too often, response to a tragic accident follows a familiar pattern: accident happens, accident becomes public flash-point issue, legislators scramble to pass a thousand new laws and regulations to ensure that that particular accident never ever ever happens again, in the pursuit of an impossible goal of absolute safety.  Soon, the regulations become such a convoluted, expensive mess to comply with that nobody can wade through them anymore.  Please, do not fall into this trap in the wake of the recent tragedy.  Is there a safety issue with Novictor Helicopters or a design flaw in the Robinson R44 helicopter involved?  Maybe there is, maybe there is not.  We don’t know yet, and will not know until the NTSB completes their investigation.  Please, let’s all reserve judgement until then and allow them to do their jobs, rather than trying to rush them with legislative demands or public pressure.  If a safety issue is revealed, there are already laws and procedures in place including automatic dissemination of special airworthiness information bulletins or mandatory airworthiness directives, which can and sometimes have involved grounding of aircraft pending correction of discovered safety flaws.

      Thank you.
      Claudio Friederich


      Dear Mr. Friederich:

      Mahalo for contacting me to share your support for waiting for the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to issue its final report on the April 29th Kailua crash before grounding air tours in Hawai’i or implementing any new regulations.

      I agree with you that rushing to implement new policies can create unintended consequences.  I have been reviewing the current regulatory scheme for tours since I took office because communities throughout Hawai’i are dealing with unacceptable disruption from noise and visual impacts, not to mention clear safety risks and other negative consequences of excessive helicopter and small aircraft commercial tour operations.  These operations are largely unregulated (see attached memo to me from the Congressional Research Service), the operators have shown no inclination to self-regulation, and it is clear that substantial regulation at the federal, state and local level is necessary.

      I am pursuing such regulation with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), stakeholders in Hawai’i, my colleagues on the relevant committees in the U.S. House and other experts on aviation. My focus is on implementing legislative and regulatory solutions ensuring that residents and visitors can enjoy Hawai’i without excessive intrusion from tours in our skies and that the safety of these tours and our communities is paramount.

      While we may not agree fully on this issue, I hope you conclude that I am not rushing my review or decision on how to proceed. I welcome your further thoughts at any time.

      Thank you again, and please continue to let me know of your views.

      With aloha,

      Congressman Ed Case

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