Maui News

Congressman Case Reintroduces Safe and Quiet Skies Act

January 21, 2021, 1:29 PM HST
* Updated January 22, 10:14 AM
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US Congressman Ed Case (Hawai‘i – District 1) today re-introduced his Safe and Quiet Skies Act, a measure he first introduced in the US House of Representatives in the 116th Congress, to impose strict safety and community disruption regulations on commercial air tour operations to include helicopters and small planes.

“In 2019 alone, there were 17 sightseeing tour flight and skydiving accidents nationwide with 37 tragic deaths from six of those crashes,” said Rep. Case in formal remarks submitted for the US House record with his bill introduction.

“In my Hawai‘i alone, we saw three dead in the crash of a commercial air tour helicopter into a residential neighborhood, 11 more dead in the crash of a commercial skydiving plane, and then seven more dead in a commercial air tour helicopter crash in a remote mountain region,” said Congressman Case.

“Many other areas of the country have been equally impacted, especially those with high commercial usage, more dense populations, valuable natural resources, significant defense installations and other factors.”

Rep. Case continued: “These tragedies occurred amidst a rapid increase in commercial helicopter and small plane overflights including residential, commercial and industrial neighborhoods, cemeteries and memorials, land and marine parks and other recreation areas, and sensitive military installations. These have disrupted whole communities with excessive noise and other impacts, destroyed the peace and sanctity of special places, increased risk to not only passengers but those on the ground, and weakened security and management of defense operations.”

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Case’s proposed law would direct the Federal Aviation Administration to adopt tighter safety recommendations. Case notes that the National Transportation Safety Board is responsible for reviewing the causes of aircraft accidents and making recommendations to improve operations safety, but the FAA is responsible for acting on those recommendations.

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“The tragedies I mentioned occurred amidst a rapid increase in commercial helicopter and small plane overflights of all parts of Hawai’i including residential, commercial and industrial neighborhoods, cemeteries and memorials, land and marine parks and other recreation areas, and sensitive military installations,” said Rep. Case.

“These have disrupted whole communities with excessive noise and other impacts, destroyed the peace and sanctity of special places, increased risk to not only passengers but those on the ground, and weakened security and management of defense operations.”

“This current situation is not acceptable for both safety and community impact concerns. Regarding ground disruption and risk, the FAA takes the position that its responsibility is strictly operational safety and national airspace efficiency and does not extend to ground disruption and other negative impacts.

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“As a result, the operators, aside from strict takeoff and approach, avoidance of established flight paths and other limited circumstances, are virtually free to fly wherever, whenever and as often as they want. And they do, with little to no self-regulation and certainly no regard for ground impacts.

“My Safe and Quiet Skies Act will further mandate strict regulation of commercial air tour operations to address defense risks and community disruption, including no overflights of defense, park, cemetery and other sensitive installations and minimum altitude and maximum noise limits on all flights. Additionally, it will allow states, localities and tribes to impose stricter regulations on tour flights in their jurisdictions, to include time, route and frequency, with required public engagement.”

The Safe and Quiet Skies Act specifics would:

  • Require that tour flights fly above the 1,500-foot altitude over actual ground at all times with very limited exceptions for emergencies and takeoff/landing;
  • Require tour flights over occupied areas (including residential, commercial and recreational areas) to be no louder than 55 dbA, the same level of noise commonly allowed for residential areas;
  • Allow states and localities to impose additional requirements – stricter than the minimum national requirements called for in the act – on tour flights;
  • Require that all regulations under this Act, in addition to any updates to any Air Tours Common Procedure Manuals (voluntary understandings between operators and the FAA), include public engagement;
  • Prohibit tour flights over military installations, national cemeteries, national wilderness areas, national parks and national wildlife refuges;
  • Apply the “sterile cockpit rule” to tour flights, which requires that pilots only focus on safely operating the aircraft and would define tour-giving and narrating as outside of the duties required for safe operation;
  • Require FAA to implement NTSB recommendations regarding Part 135 regulations, which most tour flights fly under; and, Require all tour flights to fly under Part 135 regulations and prohibit tour flights from flying under less restrictive Part 91 regulations.tour
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