The National Transportation Safety Board has placed a substantial amount of blame on the FAA for a 2019 fatal air tour helicopter crash in Hawaii. In a statement released today (May 10), Board Chair Jennifer Homendy wrote, “The NTSB previously made 11 recommendations to the FAA to prevent accidents like this one, but our recommendations only work when they are implemented. It’s time for the FAA to act.” She added, “When the NTSB issues safety recommendations, they are data-driven, supported by factual evidence developed from investigations, and are carefully crafted to prevent accidents.”
The pilot and all six passengers of a seven-seat Airbus AS350 B2 helicopter were killed when the commercial air tour flight encountered deteriorating weather and crashed in wooded terrain near Kekaha, Hawaii, on Dec. 26, 2019. The helicopter was operated by Safari Aviation, whose 69-year-old chief pilot and check airman was at the controls. Though described by the NTSB as “highly experienced,” he, nevertheless, “flew into a mountainous region shrouded in low clouds and fog and wasn’t able to exit the area of limited visibility before he either lost control of the helicopter or flew into rising terrain he wasn’t able to see.” Conditions were described as “an atypical weather pattern of low clouds and rain [that] began to move onshore from the northwest into areas along the tour route.”
The board expressed frustration with the FAA for not implementing its repeated recommendations that formal safety management systems (SMSs)—defined as “organization-wide program[s] to manage risks and assure the effectiveness of safety controls”—should be mandated for all air taxi and air tour operators.
From its statement: “The NTSB initially recommended the FAA require air taxi and air tour operators to have safety management systems in 2016. Since the FAA refused to take such action, the board reiterated the recommendation for the sixth time.”