Hudson Midair: Let The Howling Begin

  • E-Mail this Article
  • View Printable Article
  • Text size:

    • A
    • A
    • A

In the wake of an accident like the unfortunate midair between a helicopter and a Lance in New York's Hudson corridor over the weekend, being in the aviation press isn't so much like waiting for the other shoe to drop as it is trying to count how many shoes zing by. Predictably, New York Senator Charles "I-Never-Met-a–Rule-I-Didn't-Like" Schumer called for more regulation. Refreshingly, New York's level-headed mayor, Michael Bloomberg, counseled for everyone to take a deep breath. He performed a similar function when Cory Lidle flew into an East Side apartment building in 2006 while trying to extricate himself from the East River corridor.

To general aviation's considerable benefit, Bloomberg is a pilot and an aircraft owner, so not only does he get it, he's in a position to explain to the general public exactly what they have to get, too. The "it" I am referring to here is understanding relative risk and learning to live with the fact that when you get into any kind of airborne conveyance, there's always the remote chance it will come violently back to earth and you'll be injured or killed. Gravity is said to be one of the universe's weakest forces, but it is, if nothing else, relentless.

I've flown the Hudson corridor so much that I've lost count. Sometimes it's busy, sometimes it's deserted. Often, you'll drive yourself to distraction looking for an airplane you hear on the self-announce frequencies but never see. Given the volume of traffic over the river, the number of accidents is trivially small, as is the risk. There are more fatal accidents on the Palisades Parkway running on the Jersey side of the river than there are in the air over it.

Already, I'm seeing calls for requiring ADS-B or TCAS generally or in the corridor. While these systems are certainly an option, pilots, owners and operators will have to spend a ton of money to install them to mitigate what is, in the end, a tiny risk. And that applies to mid-air collisions everywhere. In the grand scheme of things, if you eliminated every GA mid-air collision, you'd move the accident rate needle a little, but not much. There are a dozen or fewer fatal mid-airs each year, against 1800 or so total GA accidents, 350 to 400 of which are fatal.

One city official suggested banning sightseeing helicopters, but that's silly. Like the Grand Canyon, New York's skyline is a great national treasure and anyone who wants to should have the right to see it. The mechanisms to manage the risk are in place—well understood rules of the road and published self-announce frequencies, radar advisories—to make it a reasonably safe thing to do. But that doesn't mean you still can't get killed doing it, a risk that applies to everything from going to the dentist to changing a light bulb.

Which is exactly what Michael Bloomberg was saying and to which I reply: Right on, your honor.

Comments (55)

Paul, even we propeller-heads sometimes miss the facts. You say it was a Lance, Aero-news says a Saratoga. They report the tail number as N71MC. To me, it makes no difference as to the cause, whether Lance or Saratoga. They are both basically the same airframe - low wing.

A little credit to the media doofs - they picked up on that little fact, but they have missed the most obvious to us - The dreaded blind spot below a low wing airplane. This is a classic example. And you see the exact same thing on our roads everywhere. "he came from my blind spot - I didn't see him".

But that begs the bigger question. With all of the "see and avoid" tools at our disposal, especially in the Hudson corridor, did the miss visual? The Piper was level cruise, but appearantly with flight following as he was "handed off" to another controller, though never made radio contact. The Piper was 30+ years old so likely did not have TCAS or even TIS. The Helo was around 10 years, and flying commercial, so more probably had one or the other. And, just taking off, likley had not requested following; though he could and should have on the ground, but no indication so far that he was in contact with ATC. (continued...)

Posted by: Roger Dugan | August 10, 2009 7:38 PM    Report this comment

The "hole" here is that the Piper was handed off but not made contact with the next controller. This suggests that, just maybe, the Piper pilot was heads down dealing with changing freq's and not eyes outside. We can only guess what the Helo pilot was doing, as he likely could not see the Piper anyway.

One thing is for sure. Both were flying along fat and happy... and clueless. Why. The tools are there.

Posted by: Roger Dugan | August 10, 2009 7:39 PM    Report this comment

Roger, the reports I've seen say the Piper hit the Copter from behind. It would make no difference high or low wing in that case. I have many hours in the Cherokee 6 (again, same airframe as Saratoga and Lance) and it has a very long nose with a forward baggage compartment and 6 cylinder engine. This, if anything, is the blind spot - not the wing. Personally, I find high winged planes more "dangerous" since the wing blocks you view in the direction of travel during any maneuvering, especially pattern turns.

Hopefully this will all calm down quickly since the Hudson Corridor is one of the coolest rides in the Northeast USA. Perhaps, if anything, what we need is an on-line course on how to navigate it much like we have for the Washington DC area.

I think when the numbers are examined that corridor will be statistically no more dangerous than any other slab of airspace around the country. We have an unfortunate tendency in this country to spend 99% of our money and effort solving the last 1% of a problem. I hope this doesn't happen here.

Posted by: Michael Friedman | August 11, 2009 9:18 AM    Report this comment

ABC News quoted Rep Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) calling it "unconscionable" that the FAA permits "unregulated" flights in a major metro area. Someday politicians will stop grandstanding for the cameras before knowing all the facts...(pipe dream, I know). Not to diminish the deaths of the individuals involved, but on the same day that Nadler was ranting about the "dangerous" Hudson corridor, about 100 people died on the highways in this country without so much as a chest thump from a politician. People do all this hand-wringing about a midair collision (the first since 1983 in the Hudson corridor IIRC) and then proceed to jump in their cars and drive at 75mph mere feet from other vehicles, driven by people who were taught to drive by their dads in a parking lot. There are a couple of common-sense changes that could be made to VFR corridor procedures that would reduce the risk, but I don't see any good rationale for closing it entirely.

Posted by: Chris McLellan | August 11, 2009 12:21 PM    Report this comment

I've never flown that airspace, but it sounds to me that the system and its design did not fail. Rather, another case of human error. Failure to see in the case of the Piper, and to a much lesser extent for the helicopter, to be seen.


Posted by: Richard Sinnott | August 11, 2009 1:44 PM    Report this comment

Without inflicting major expense on aircraft owners and pilots, why not make operating in the Hudson corridor an endorsement, similar to night flying? I have all the skills to fly there now, but my base of operations is Kansas. I can go days without seeing another aircraft in the sky and I certainly won't be distracted by the scenery. Should I fly there? Probably not. Could I learn about the special requirements for the area? Certainly. Should I and all pilots have the opportunity to fly there? Definitely. As the DPE said, "This is a license to learn......"
Just a thought.

Posted by: RICHARD GIRARD | August 12, 2009 6:35 AM    Report this comment

I don't know that an endorsement is going to make any difference in risk. You have only to look at the accident record to determine that on a per-hour or per-flight basis, mid-air risk in the Hudson corridor is low. It may be no higher and perhaps even lower than at a busy non-towered airport.

This accident might have been preventable with a TIS or TCAS system and those who really stress about mid-airs--personally, I don't--should buy this equipment. See and avoid works great, but sometimes it doesn't and people die as a result. The choice of supplementing see and avoid with electronics is there, but let individuals make it, not the FAA.

Best idea I've heard is to restrict helo to 500 feet and lower. That makes for natural traffic separation, although near TEB, a climbing departure might be at risk. Simple fix there is don't turn over the river until 500 feet or above.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | August 12, 2009 7:28 AM    Report this comment

Another idea is to do what they do at Oshkosh - specify an entry point, altitude, and speed. If all aircraft are level at 500 feet, traveling 90 knots, and have to be at that speed/altitude to enter at point X, then you eliminate some of the ways aircraft collide - overtaking, climbing/descending into, etc.

I get the sense that flight following in the area is not very effective since the controllers are likely already swamped, and targets can be less than a mile apart. Good, disciplined CTAF use is an effective tool that is misunderstood by a great many pilots, so anything that can be done to improve & standardize its use in this corridor (i.e. designating standard reporting points) would help as well.

But yes, eventually we have to accept the risk of midairs no matter how well designed or regulated a piece of airspace is.

Posted by: Donald Harper | August 12, 2009 12:19 PM    Report this comment

Let's face it. The aircraft we fly have blind spots. That is a fact. Each time we fly we live under the possibly false assumption that there is nothing that can hurt us in these blind spots. But there is a cheap cure for this problem.
That cure is to carry onboard a collision avoidance device. These devices can be as cheap as $500 and do not need FAA approval because they derive their power from a cigarette lighter. The only hitch is their information is derived from the transponders of other planes so these transponders must at least be squawking 1200. Currently there is no FAA requirement to squawk 1200, only the suggestion to do so.
9 killed this time, 4 last year 30 miles west of FTL, and on and on.
This is an inexpensive easy to implement way to stop these needless deaths.

Posted by: Bill Costello | August 13, 2009 6:33 AM    Report this comment

Regulate? why? the least regulated industry is marine the next up is the automobile and top of the pops is avaition. Which have the most accidents and which the least? On a man-hour per mile the highest accident rate goes to the most regualted industry avaition with automobile second and marine has the least. No maybe we need to think why? and someone wants to add more. Unbelievable. That's all I can say.

Posted by: Bruce Savage | August 13, 2009 6:43 AM    Report this comment

Response to Bill Costello: I believe that the accident site, in fact the entire Hudson River Corridor, is within the 30 nm New York Terminal Area Mode C ring, so the regulations required that their transponders be on. But I think the Mark 1 eyeball is still the best defense in airspace like this corridor. So you have blind spots. You can lift a wing or dip a nose from time to time. There's no need to cruise along fat, dumb and happy looking at the fancy new glass panel.

Posted by: EGON FRECH | August 13, 2009 7:07 AM    Report this comment

Also to Bill Costello: I have one of those traffic detectors and at most times it's worthless in the corridor. It simply tells me there's traffic within a mile. Well duh. The $1500 Zaon XRX gives general azimuth and may be more useful, but you're looking at $10,000+ to get a 'real' traffic detector that can show you all the traffic.

I don't agree with those who want to limit helos to 500 and below. Not all the helos are flying sightseeing tourists. Quite a few are flying people to one of the nearby airports. Many times I've been coming down the corridor and seen a helicopter from from LaGuardia come right over Central Park (under ATC control) at 1500 and drop into the corridor heading for the heliport. Nothing dangerous--we see each other and radio calls help. I agree with Paul: The corridor accident rate is miniscule. I'd guess it may actually be lower than "normal"--considering the amount of traffic--because most everyone is hyper-vigilant when flying there. This was an unfortunate accident. But it was just that--an accident. No need to treat it like a national crisis.

Posted by: RICHARD BEEBE | August 13, 2009 7:48 AM    Report this comment

This is just another example of the media leading the uneducated sheep. No doubt that it is a tragedy, and that every thing reasonable should be done to prevent it from accruing again, once all the information is collected and studied.
But how many Auto accidents happen every day that people are killed or injured in? Is the media call for the closing of all roads and highways? Not unless it sell ad space.
Sensationalism sells. Just another example of the media creating news and the politicians jumping on the band wagon with no real information, just through who ever or what ever under the bus it get attention both the media and politicians act like 2 year olds, the terrible twos.

Posted by: RONALD FULLER | August 13, 2009 8:03 AM    Report this comment

To Richard Beebe: I agree with everything you wrote but go tell that to the politicians. They're all over local NY And NJ channels clamoring for the closing of the Hudson corridor. Bloomberg is about the only sane voice on this.
Btw, I have Tcas and terrain warning on my plane. The terrain warning is a terrible hindrance when flying the corridor, you just can't shut it off and it keeps issuing warnings.The Tcas is slightly more useful but keeping your head on a swivel and self announcing are the best defences

Posted by: michel palacci | August 13, 2009 8:07 AM    Report this comment

To Richard Beebe: I agree with everything you wrote but go tell that to the politicians. They're all over local NY And NJ channels clamoring for the closing of the Hudson corridor. Bloomberg is about the only sane voice on this.
Btw, I have Tcas and terrain warning on my plane. The terrain warning is a terrible hindrance when flying the corridor, you just can't shut it off and it keeps issuing warnings.The Tcas is slightly more useful but keeping your head on a swivel and self announcing are the best defences

Posted by: michel palacci | August 13, 2009 8:08 AM    Report this comment

Some updated comments:

1: As mentioned above, it is absolutely required to have a transponder with at least mode C operating to use this airspace.

2: According to a quote of Mayor Bloomberg in today's Flying Magazine eNews, this is the FIRST EVER midair collision since the inception of the corridor back in the 1960's. There have been other accidents for sure, but no collisions inside this airspace.

3: Ironically, it used to be convention for helicopters to fly 500' and below, and aircraft 500'-1100', but they stopped doing that due to noise complaints. I suppose this just proves that you can't please everyone.

4: While flying low down the corridor is great fun and I've enjoyed it many times, it is quite easy to get a clearance into the Class B to fly down the Hudson at a more normal 2500' or 3000'. My wife in uncomfortable flying low, so when we fly together that's what we do and have never been refused.

Posted by: Michael Friedman | August 13, 2009 8:15 AM    Report this comment

Unmanned aircraft are all the rage these day. They are the perfect solution to flight over enemy territory, but why over friendly countryside? It is only a matter of time before a pilotless aircraft is involved in a mid-air collision or a crash into populated area. In these days of high unemployment, it makes no sense to eliminate pilots from cockpits of aircraft flying through friendly airspace! That pair of eyes in the cockpit will some day make all the difference between a near miss or another fatal mid-air collision or even, heaven forbid, a crash into an occupied building!

Posted by: Paul Frederick Siegel | August 13, 2009 8:20 AM    Report this comment

The cause of the midair is very simple. The Saratoga was talking to ATC while the helicopter was probably talking on the CTAF. Two different frequencies.
The helicopter pilot climbed into the Saratoga from under his blind spot while the Saratoga, flying straight and level, was approaching the helicopter from his blind spot.
As for eliminating the VFR corridor, I'm sure that if asked, the controllers would not want the extra traffic to handle.
Someone else has already commented on the number of auto accidents and fatalities that occur daily, so I'll just second that opinion.

Posted by: Charles Truthan | August 13, 2009 8:40 AM    Report this comment

I agree with Charles T., the fact that the Saratoga was not on the CTAF had to contribute to the accident. I have flown the corridor myself and it's imperative to hear what everyone else is doing. I know from a friend who has flow out of the Jersey airports that ATC will vector pilots through the VFR corridor. He said is was disturbing because you were not able to listen to the CTAF.

Perhaps the simplest way to prevent this from happening again is to require that ATC keep planes under it's control in controlled airspace. If they had done that in this case, the accident would never have happened. The controlled airspace in that section of the corridor starts at 1500', well above where the helicopter was.

Posted by: Joe C. | August 13, 2009 8:51 AM    Report this comment

I see no reason why the airspace ceiling should not be raised from 1,100 ft. to 1,500 ft. The jets that approach on the river making a right turn into LaGuardia are high enough that there is still ample separation. Having the extra space will simply put more distance between aircraft thus making the chances of contact less likely. JMHO.

Posted by: DAVID AFFINITO | August 13, 2009 9:00 AM    Report this comment

I thought this is an area with no radar coverage at these low altitudes.
That would mean no flight following of any value to the pilot. As a fixed wing
and heli pilot I fly regularly in uncontrolled airspace. Position reporting
works yet it seems many don't report. I am always disappointed to
see andavoid but not be able to contact the other fellow on 123.05.

I agree with analogy of both flying in each others blind spot. If they were
on different frequencies this truly was a freak accident. Perhaps the
Piper pilot was to climb up into Class B and thus called ATC?

Posted by: Bob Lotter | August 13, 2009 9:07 AM    Report this comment

David, while the ceiling for most of the corridor is 1100' the ceiling for the area where the accident happened is already 1500'. While raising the ceiling over the rest of the corridor and keeping planes with ATC in the controlled airspace would certainly prevent this from happening in the future I think that just keeping planes under ATC control out of the current VFR space would probably have the same effect without having to rearrange the airspace.

The Piper pilot was supposed to be talking to ATC the whole time, even while in the VFR space. That's why they were on different frequencies.

Posted by: Joe C. | August 13, 2009 10:46 AM    Report this comment

Almost all the salient points have been about the corridor, lack of regulations, and congressholes have been made, but I'll add a couple that were glossed over.

Re: "lack of regulation". This statement is of course completely devoid of fact. As anyone who has even a small passing knowledge of aviation knows that pilots, aircraft, and the airspace they operate in are extremely regulated, probably more so than any other conveyance in existence.

Re: TCAS/Radar coverage. As pointed out, adding "radar control" and/or TCAS would likely do very little to reduce risk. Given the amount of traffic and resolution of radar and TCAS, pilots and controllers will likely quickly hit "alert saturation and fatigue", which would then reduce the efficacy of those systems.

Re: Banning flights. Flight bans are usually done for security purposes or to protect environmentally sensitive areas, neither of which apply to the Hudson river exclusion area.

A highway accident occurred in NY recently which resulted in seven deaths, 4 of them children, when a women driving down the wrong way on a highway slammed into an SUV. Yet, there aren't calls for a ban on mothers driving minivans, or rules calling for vehicles to sniff drivers for alcohol, or stiffer driver "regulation".

Those that do not comprehend GA, or do not feel served by it, will always call for less of it, or stiff regulations for it, so that they can impose impossible standards on others they would never accept for themselves.

Posted by: Avi Weiss | August 13, 2009 1:27 PM    Report this comment

I'm a relatively new pilot, with my only high-traffic experience over, under, and through Salt Lake's Class B. I admit I have a hard actually seeing the traffic that ATC calls, or that my instruments tell me is there.

But I've had more close calls with traffic climbing or descending through narrow canyons on the approach or departure path to/from an airport. In this case there's no ATC warning, no VFR cruise altitudes, and pilots with a nose-high climb or other distractions that make "see and avoid" harder.

Anyway, I've heard the Hudson VFR corridor likened to a narrow canyon. It's interesting that some of the canyon trails near Salt Lake City had enough problems with bike / pedistrian / dog conflicts, that they are now restricted so that on bikes are only allowed on even-numbered calendar days, and dogs are only allowed on odd-numbered calendar days. As I understand it, it's been quite sucessful at reducing conflicts between those that go fast (bicycles), and those that just want to wander around slowly and look at things (hikers with their dogs).

Of course, it might not work so well if the go slow wander around types were actually conducting tours for profit, because they'd still want to go every day, not just the days with no go-fast types. (think helo's and fixed wings).

Note that I'm not suggesting this approach for the Hudson River corridor, I'm just noting the successful resolution of a seeming related problem.

Posted by: Thomas Thurston | August 13, 2009 2:06 PM    Report this comment

I like Thomas T. new suggestion. While it might not work, it at least can help figure out the ultimate solution.

It is funny that some many people die on the highway, but there are never calls to close the roads. I would love to hear a social scientist take on that subject.

Another out of the cockpit idea is to enforce direction around the airspace canyon. Evenyone has to fly clockwise and stay to the right. Just lake a crowded lake.

Posted by: Bruce Billedeaux | August 13, 2009 2:18 PM    Report this comment

Bruce posted: "Another out of the cockpit idea is to enforce direction around the airspace canyon. Evenyone has to fly clockwise and stay to the right."

Why is that "out of the cockpit"? Stay to the right is the way the VFR corridor works now.

As I said before, I believe the real issue here is aircraft in the VFR corridor who are not on the CTAF. If ATC kept all planes under it's control above the VFR space there would not have been an accident.

Posted by: Joe C. | August 13, 2009 2:52 PM    Report this comment

Thomas, I really like your thoughts; but, how are they going to install puppy poo stations at altitude, and who are they going to get to clean them out? :-)

Posted by: Roger Dugan | August 13, 2009 3:02 PM    Report this comment

I have flown the corridor a few times and as you would expect, the flight path is nearly due south. It was a sunny and bright VFR day and it was just before noon. While we do not know the exact final course, I suspect that the Piper's flight path was very close to directly into the sun (although the sun was not low in the sky), and that the helicopter may have been invisible with the sun behind it.

Posted by: MARK SAKLAD | August 13, 2009 3:44 PM    Report this comment

Stay to the right is the rule and it works. I don't think I've ever seen anyone blundering the "wrong way." Except around the Statue of Liberty where, it seems, some people don't get it. I don't circle it for that reason. It's just too crowded down there.

I disagree that not being on CTAF is the "real issue." I've seen plenty of planes that either weren't talking or were giving incorrect position reports. Other pilots are always quick to point out traffic that they think isn't talking. As happened in this case. Another helo pilot called out the traffic to the accident helicopter before the collision. Perhaps, if the Saratoga had been on channel he would have realized the message was about him. Perhaps not. Obviously the helicopter pilot didn't hear or understand it. Accurate position reports are very useful but the Mark I eyeball is the most critical tool.

Basically, it all works fine as it is now. There's nothing that needs "fixing."

Posted by: RICHARD BEEBE | August 13, 2009 3:47 PM    Report this comment

Joe C. wrote: "...While raising the ceiling over the rest of the corridor and keeping planes with ATC in the controlled airspace would certainly prevent this from happening in the future ..."

Not true. Lots of midairs occur under ATC control. Just like lots of auto accidents occur at intersections with traffic-control-lights. Let's avoid knee-jerk reactions to a rarely-occuring accident. After's JUST AN ACCIDENT. And it'll likely not happen again in decades in this location, and even if it does, it will not likely affect anyone but the direct participants. Virtually NO hazard exists for the travelling public. By the kneejerk reactions the media and politicians are proposing...we should require all swimmers to wear life preservers and get written permission and supervision to swim.

Posted by: George Horn | August 13, 2009 4:09 PM    Report this comment

I disagree, with an explanation. What would have been prevented was not all accidents, but a midair between a plane under ATC control and one flying VFR in the corridor. If the ATC controlled planes are well above the VFR corridor they can't hit each other. That's not to say that they can't hit other planes in the same airspace, I agree with you on that. I'm just saying that a plane flying in the VFR corridor should at least be able to be on the CTAF.

If the piper pilot had announced he was entering the corridor or heard the heli pilot saying he was taking off, the accident might have been avoided. Having a plane in the VFR corridor and not on the CTAF is asking for trouble, and it's avoidable.

Also, I'm not advocating raising the VFR ceiling, having flown thru the corridor myself I actually think the current rules work pretty well as they are. I would suggest two simple changes to help increase safety:

1. Lower that 1500' section in the middle of the corridor to 1100' to make it the same all along.

2. Don't allow ATC to put planes into the VFR space, if they are under ATC control they should be in controlled airspace, not in the VFR corridor where they can't hear or talk to anyone.

Posted by: Joe C. | August 13, 2009 5:06 PM    Report this comment

I've flown the corridor many times in my twenty years of flying. This treasure of airspace should not be lost. It's not the east river. Maybe some mandatory or recommended announcing points at most for position, type, altitude & direction, or whenever turning. Really nothing needs to be done.

Posted by: James Kilkenny | August 13, 2009 5:07 PM    Report this comment

Thank you, Joe C. for your response. We'll have to agree to disagree, however. Has CTAF useage prevented all mid-airs at uncontrolled fields? Ans; No.
All it has done is create a whole, new generation of pilots who clutter the freq. with "crosswind" "downwind" "base leg" "final" "short final" commentary which becomes useless chatter, just like "N1234 is ten miles North, all traffic in the area please advise"... Pure, Useless chatter which might make the broadcaster feel warm-and-fuzzy but which does little to prevent mid-airs.'s "See and Avoid"...not "Talk and Avoid."

Posted by: George Horn | August 13, 2009 5:56 PM    Report this comment

At the risk of repeating much of the above: 1) get a life - lots of people die and airplanes are sexy/sell stories and 2) this type of corridor can be improved - a) make it bigger, remember the see and avoid is also the big sky theory. There is nothing sacred about Class B airspace. b) change the shapes and limits of the VFR corridor and the shapes can be changeable too; just have a frequency to define and/or control - anyone been through an MOA in the West?(fortuneately the guys with UHF going very fast low also have radar and controllers but those same controllers point them out so it becomes entertaining not threatening) c) make ATC workable so the controlled airspace is accessible; sorry, I've never gotten a response 1st time from a NY controller VFR, d) draw a map such as has been done for Grand Canyon. There are probaby 50+ tweaks that can make this a better more comfortable airspace for all the users and maybe an incident like this can force ownership onto the various interest groups.

Posted by: RICHARD KENNEDY | August 13, 2009 10:36 PM    Report this comment

Regarding Bill Costello's post - you are required to have transponder on and squawking Mode C (Altitude) if equipped at ALL times (see FAR 91.413c) Note: it specifies airspace where xponders are required, then requires Transponder on & squawking ALT in all "controlled" airspace (A,B,C,D,E) as defined as per FAR 1. Not to mention, I think the Hudson corridor is within a Mode C Veil, but I'd want to double-check on a sectional. Only exception to the mode C veil is to have an aircraft certified without an electrical system. I personally don't have a traffic alert system yet, as the reviews I've seen seem to indicate they are marginal at best, however I use flight following any chance I get. Happy flying!
Josh Johnson, CFII

Posted by: Josh Johnson | August 14, 2009 2:16 PM    Report this comment

The single major factor here was failure of the see-and-be-seen concept. Low altitude, with visually confused background, combined with the fact that FAA prohibits white aft-facing anti-collision lighting on helicopters, set the stage for this tragedy.

I have petitioned the Administrator twice in the last 10 years to allow split red/white lenses on Part 27 helicopters (like the AS-350), the same as they are allowed on airplanes. Twice I have been refused, he first time because of potential light glare in the cockpit, which is already addressed in the previous paragraph, so should not be a consideration. The second petition, which pointed out that redundancy, was not even published as an NPRM because "we have more important issues to deal with". Now that there have been 9 deaths directly caused by FAA's failure to act on this subject, do you suppose there's enough blood on the regulation to wake up the people in the Ft. Worth Helicopter Directorate? Red aft-facing strobe lenses provide only 20% of the conspicuity of white lenses and if properly placed, do not produce any glare at all. I know. I operated a dozen helicopters with split lenses, despite that foolish regulation. It's a shame that FAA regulations in this case inhibit safety, rather than encouraging it.

Posted by: Howard Fuller | August 15, 2009 2:00 PM    Report this comment

Tail lighting had nothing to do with this accident. Based on the video record, the Piper pilot could not see the heli at all until it was too late, as the heli was below and under the left wing of the piper. It is unclear if the Piper saw the heli or was reacting to ATC instruction to turn 220, or the Piper pilot reacting to visual contact with the heli.

The Piper was VFR with flight following. The heli was just VFR. Both different freqs. The heli transmitted possitions. The Piper was relying on ATC flight following. Neither heard the other. One hand not knowing what the other is doing.

IMHO the critical link in this chain was the convergence of both aircraft in their respective "blind spots". Contributing were the pitols on different freqs and the Piper pilot heads down dailing in the transfer freq. The ATC transcripts of the controller chatting on the phone, while inappropriate, had minimal, if any, effect on the cause.

Posted by: Roger Dugan | August 15, 2009 4:32 PM    Report this comment

Roger, you seemed to have nailed it right on the center.

Posted by: DAVID AFFINITO | August 16, 2009 9:47 AM    Report this comment

If the controller was talking to his girl friend at the time this has to be a
contributing factor. The Heli's transponder moat certainly would have appears
on radar.

Posted by: Bob Lotter | August 16, 2009 10:13 AM    Report this comment

I am assuming Roger is right that the Piper was on flight following. Unlike IFR, the controllers are not required to provide separation. The Piper driver was almost totally at fault here. The helicopter pilot was a total professional and was overtaken from behind. He had the right-of-way in this event. I have flown the corridor for 15 years, and it is always the newbie that doesn't call position that is the danger. The Piper pilot should have known his position and his responsibility. He was probably distracted by the radio, looking at Manhattan, and talking to his passengers about both when the accident occurred.

Posted by: Ken Miller | August 17, 2009 4:20 AM    Report this comment

I like the comment about requiring an endorsement to fly the corridor. It's a great ride but it is definitely not a romp in the park. If the Feds require everyone who flies within 100 miles of Washington's 'circle of doom' take an online test, it should be easy enough to develop a similar on line interactive test for the corridor. An instructor sign off might be better since another brain will have had a chance to evaluated a pilot's capability.

The Sport Pilot program allows incremental improvements in capability with an endorsement process. Flying the Hudson corridor meets the same criteria.

A second great idea is the one proposing an arrival procedure. The Piper slid into the canyon from the side after departing TEB. (Yes, the delicopter pilot entered from below, but those folks are professionals and for the most part they have better visibility.) Had the Piper pilot entered from the GW Bridge or the Verranzano, he would have been able to see and be seen more easily. It should be an absolute requirement to be on 123.05 down the Hudson. Perhaps the NTSB will be able to examine the Piper radio and determine what freq he was on after he switched from TEB tower.

Holoding helicopters to 500 feet is a wonderful idea except for the noise they generate. The NY helicopter community goes far out of their way to mitigate noise. Far better that everyone fly the corridor right in the first place and keep their ears open and their heads on a swivel.

Posted by: Bill Leavens | August 17, 2009 6:28 AM    Report this comment

I have always found it odd that whenever an accident occurs the focus by news organziations, the NTSB and pundits seems to be - who did something wrong. Truth is there are times when no one did anything wrong. I think it is likely that this emphasis tends to leave many with the belief that to avoid these instnaces all one has to do is avoid doing something wrong. There are times that the accident results from not doing enough things right. Humans seem incapable of accepting that not doing enough things right is not the same as doing something wrong.

Posted by: Richard Jenkins | August 17, 2009 6:30 AM    Report this comment

My tuppence worth: we have moved from a Christian era to a scientific era (the new world order) and the two differ a lot. Christians would say “If it’s your time to die then there is nothing you can do, you die” The scientists still haven’t figured this one out, they believe no one should dye and someone has to take responsibility and a solution to stopping people dying be found. With millions dying every year and still no solution available I would suggest that we re-write the “Health and Safety” bible to include some form of accidental death that will carry a “no one is at fault” and move on.

About forty years ago someone predicated that there will come a time when the scientists and newsagents will become dominate figures in our societies and will rule the world. That time has come.

Politicians no longer rule they are subject to the news agent’s manipulation and know if they do not do what they are told too they will lose their jobs.

Unfortunately those news agents are involved and the story is selling so they are not ready to give up easy. Politicians are playing up to that sensation because they know their names will be highlighted and the people will believe, through the medium of the media, that they are doing a good job

Posted by: Bruce Savage | August 17, 2009 7:33 AM    Report this comment

Having just seen the video, I've 2 additional comments, 1 suggestion, and 1 query to make.
1. The Saratoga had the "right of way" and the helicopter failed to see and yield the right of way.
2. The Saratoga pilot started a right turn (and perhaps a climb) a split second prior to impact and the helicopter flew under the left wing and sheared the Saratoga's right wing.
Suggestion: Since the helicopter was a COMMERCIAL operation and performing multiple flight operations daily, it should have been equipped with TCAS, especially within the busy Hudson River VFR corridor.
Query: Having read today's article in AvWeb re NTSB and NATCA, I'd be interested in learning if the Teterboro controller, who had the last communication with the Saratoga, had pointed out ANY of the VFR targets in the Hudson River Corridor prior to handing off the Saratoga to Newark.
Having a few IFR and VFR Flight Following hours of experience, I've always had targets of potential conflict called out to me in busy traffic areas before being handed off to another sector/controller. If the controller was to busy to give me those call-outs, then they would refuse to take me as flight following.
This was a tragic accident and the key to preventing this in the future is NOT to "lay blame" rather it is to determine what what wrong and HOW TO BEST PREVENT IT IN THE FUTURE! (Of course the lawyers are all frothing at the mouth to get into a suit over this and make their 40% fee PLUS "expenses" off this tragedy.)

Posted by: Charles Truthan | August 17, 2009 11:17 AM    Report this comment

Having not flown in this airspace I was going to let this one go. But cant accept the comment from Ken Miller that the Piper pilot was totally in the wrong and the heli pilot totally in the right, presumably simply because the heli pilot was a "total professional". Being a total professional doesnt absolve you of the requirement to see and avoid. And I'll be willing to bet that the NTSB report will say so when it comes out and places blame on both pilots.

I have flown in other VFR corridors through Class B including LAX and SAN. If I'm in the corridor I monitor the appropriate frequency, announce position, and follow the rules of the road. If I'm on flight following I dont enter the corridor. I either get a Class B clearance or follow a prescribed VFR transition route while remaining with the controller. If neither of these options are available and I have to use the corridor, I terminate flight following so I can be on freq for transition through the corridor and then pick flight following back up on the other side.

Posted by: Mike Wills | August 17, 2009 4:11 PM    Report this comment

Mike - I agree completely. I've flown with private pilots I'd confidently allow my family to fly with, and commercial pilots I wouldn't trust to fly a Cessna 150 on a clear day with no wind!
As a Christian, I disagree with Bruce's post that a person's time to die is fixed. I will skip the religious justification, and offer an observation. I know of people who will do anything, no matter the consequences (drive like a madman, fly poorly maintained airplanes in bad weather, VFR into IMC etc) because they think they're invincible until their time has come. I don't think it's God's job to save us from arrogance and ignorance, however I'm grateful for the times I've had Him help me through many of the stupid things I've done in an airplane and otherwise. With that being said, accidents do happen, and I really don't see the need for massive changes in the Hudson corridor. Lesson for the day: heads up and be careful in busy airspace.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | August 17, 2009 5:37 PM    Report this comment

Religious incantations and incense aside, Kens pronouncemnts blaming the Piper pilot, based upon Ken's imaginations as to what the Piper pilot was doing which precluded him from being hit by a climbing "professional" who intruded into the Piper is unworthy of response, but Mike's assessment is "on the mark". The Piper was participating in flight following and the helicopter was not and yet it climbed up into the path of higher traffic who was blind to the intrusion. It is an accident. If one were making an unrelated and unauthorized phone call while on-duty, one might be anxious to "get rid" or "pass off" traffic obligations with premature-haste. I do not believe that phone-call "had nothing to do" with the accident. It took up valuable time and attention from a controller who had an obligation to the Piper AND the helicopter.

Posted by: George Horn | August 17, 2009 5:57 PM    Report this comment

I really think bottom line on this one is that the pilots failed to see and avoid. In my unscientific view, the video seemed to me that it was showing the helicopter flying into the side of the Piper. The controllers conduct was unacceptable, and likely a factor. I don't think the system is fatally flawed and it was just a tragic accident. I passed what was most likely a fatal auto accident today, and the most press it will get is that traffic was backed up on the interstate today. As for the incense George is talking about, that is the smoke from the career's of the controller and supervisor going up in flames!

Posted by: Josh Johnson | August 17, 2009 8:19 PM    Report this comment

God helps those who help themselves.

Posted by: JEAN F REAT | August 18, 2009 6:36 AM    Report this comment

Well, well. Step aside media reporters, politicians and pundits. Even the NTSB can't get it right. Their prelim release yesterday blamed the Teteboro controler for not warning the Piper pilot about the "accident helicopter"; but in the same report they say the heli did not even appear on radar until 7 seconds after the freq hand-off. NATCA is raising hell, and rightfully so, but NTSB has refused to issue a correction, saying they are standing behind their report.

Posted by: Roger Dugan | August 18, 2009 11:50 AM    Report this comment

Now the NTSB back peddles and kicks out NATCA as a party to the investigation. I'm not a controler or member of NATCA or any other affiliation other than AOPA and EAA. But I am seriously offended by this. An organization with a direct interest in proper reporting of the incident getting pushed to the side for pointing out a deficiency in the report is inexcusable.

Posted by: Roger Dugan | August 18, 2009 8:21 PM    Report this comment

I disagree with your contention that NATCA has "a direct interest in proper reporting..." NATCA has a clear bias so its not at all surprising if the NTSB chooses not to include them in the investigation. Virtually everything I've ever read from NATCA displays a pro-controller - anti everyone else bias.

Keep in mind that the NTSB report was very preliminary. The final report is likely many months away. Based on what I've seen and read, if I were to bet on that final report's conclusions, I'd bet it is going to say the accident was caused by failure of both pilots to see and avoid with the controller's actions (or inactions) a contributing factor.

Posted by: Mike Wills | August 19, 2009 10:27 AM    Report this comment

Mike, I think you miss took my intended point. My angst is toward the NTSB for excluding NATCA after their complaint. I wholly agree that NATCA is biased. Had the NTSB erred by stating that the controler atttempted to warn the Piper before the heli even appeared on radar, NATCA would likely have remained silent on the error, or maybe even tried to exploit it.

I tend to agree with your prediction of the NTSB's probable cause. They seem predisposed to blame the pilot for most anything. 'Pilot's failure to recognize that the wings might fall off in straight and level flight in smooth air.' And, unless it is so obvious they can't even use their beloved "undetermined reasons" statement will they only hint that the pilot couldn't prevent or avoid the incident.

Posted by: Roger Dugan | August 19, 2009 7:07 PM    Report this comment

The golden age of flight was coming to an end when I received my license in the mid 60's.

We can expect that in the next 30-50 years the freedom we have enjoyed will be gone, along with most of us old guys.

When I was a boy, the local airport was the hub of activity on the weekend, now there are just 7 planes left on the field.


Posted by: John Sams | August 22, 2009 8:42 PM    Report this comment

Anybody care that the copter, which spent the majority of its flighttime in crowded airspace, was painted conspicuity black..?

Posted by: Peter Snell | August 26, 2009 11:25 AM    Report this comment

Add your comments

Log In

You must be logged in to comment

Forgot password?


Enter your information below to begin your FREE registration