New Helicopter Safety Act Would Require TAWS, FDRs, CVRs

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Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., introduced a bill in the U.S. Senate on Thursday that would require all “U.S.-registered turbine-powered rotorcraft certificated for 6 or more passenger seats” to be equipped with terrain awareness and warning systems (TAWS), flight data recorders (FDRs) and cockpit voice recorders (CVRs). The Helicopter Safety Act of 2020 cites the FAA’s failure to act on National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommendations dating back to 2006, making particular note of the January 2020 crash of a Sikorsky S-76B that killed nine people including retired NBA star Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna. As previously reported by AVweb, the helicopter carrying Bryant impacted terrain while operating VFR an area where low visibility and ceilings were reported. The NTSB has not yet issued a final report on the accident and probable cause has not been determined.

“Despite NTSB recommendations 15 years ago that the FAA make terrain awareness equipment and other safety technology mandatory on all helicopters, some of this lifesaving equipment is only required to be installed in air ambulances,” said Senator Feinstein. “We saw the deadly results of this inaction in January when a helicopter carrying Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven others crashed. If that helicopter had terrain awareness equipment, the tragedy may have been averted.”

If passed, the bill (PDF) would require the FAA to issue necessary regulations no later than 180 days after its enactment. Affected aircraft would be required to be in compliance either one or two years after the regulation is issued as “the [FAA] Administrator determines appropriate.” The bill was introduced in partnership with Senators Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Edward Markey, D-Mass. Congressman Brad Sherman, D-Calif., introduced a companion bill in the U.S House of Representatives.

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8 COMMENTS

  1. Knee jerk reaction once again from people that know nothing about aviation and will not consult with the folks that are the true experts on accidents. Flying in IMC at low altitude with high dollar terrain avoidance equipment would do nothing especially after they already broke the rules not maintaining VFR and my understanding using an IPAD….Just the utterance of the name Chuck Schumer = Lies and misinformation…..did I mention Schumer is a person that can’t be trusted on anything……..ok I’m calm now.

    • Knee-jerk reaction? Hardly. The NTSB has been pushing FAA to mandate TAWS and FDRs for certain types of turbine-powered helicopters ever since 2006. Ref: FlightGlobal article dated March 13, 2006. I found that with a quick search using “NTSB fdr required for helicopters.” A few more keystrokes pulled up the NTSB’s (“2019–2020 MWL-Associated AS OF APRIL 17, 2020 AVIATION Open Safety Recommendations”).

      Here, I’ll make it easy for you. Page 15 of that document says:
      A-13-013 Open–Acceptable Response
      TO THE FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION: Require all existing turbine-powered, nonexperimental, nonrestricted-category aircraft that are not equipped with a flight data recorder or cockpit voice recorder
      and are operating under Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Parts 91, 121, or 135 to be retrofitted with a crash-resistant flight recorder system. The crash-resistant flight recorder system should record cockpit
      audio and images with a view of the cockpit environment to include as much of the outside view as possible, and parametric data per aircraft and system installation, all as specified in Technical Standard Order
      C197, “Information Collection and Monitoring Systems.”

      “Knee jerk reaction once again from people that know nothing about aviation and will not consult with the folks that are the true experts on accidents. ” Are you saying that the NTSB doesn’t know what it’s talking about?

      • NTSB is but one body of investigation and normally very good at what they do but they are not the only ruling authority. Consideration should be taken on cost, fleet flying numbers, pilot training and 135 rules in place for just this cause.
        No amount of equipment is going to cure bad judgement. If an operator wants to equip his fleet with all this safety gear and weight for a 6 seat machine so be it but that should be his/her choice not the arbitrarily rule of a one sided committee or politician looking for votes and a pat on the back…..Let me make it simple, you can’t fix stupid.

      • John,

        A flight data recorder or cockpit voice recorder does not in any way increase the safety of operation of an aircraft or helicopter. The pilot’s do not interact with this system and it provides no method of warning or caution advisories relative to flight.

        It’s sole purpose is to capture data of the flight for the purposes of accident investigation and for study to determine root cause of the accident/incident. It aids in understanding the accident so that either operational procedures need to be updated, changed, developed or if there was a malfunction of the equipment or aircraft.

        The requirement to add FDR/CVR is a “knee jerk’ reaction by those who do not understand their purpose.

        TAWS is a tool available to pilots, if equipped. However, a VFR pilot is responsible for traffic avoidance and obstacle clearance. In IFR, TAWS again is a tool, it should not be the say all for obstacle/terrain clearance. IFR flight is very structured with MEA, MOCA altitudes. Helicopters have their own set of requirements.

        In my opinion, one of the most dangerous things in either aircraft or helicopters is transition from VMC to IMC when you are not ready or trained for it, and even when you are trained, are you prepared to enter IMC. IMC flying requires proficiency not just currency.

  2. This requirement only makes sense for helicopters flying IFR only. The helicopter that Mr Bryant was on was not allowed IFR per the company’s pt 135 ops specs. When the FAA put a requirement for TAWS in fixed wing turbine with 6 or more seats they had to put in an exception for VFR operations (ex, skydiving ops). The only way most pilots would ever support video recording of cockpit is if that info can be legally be unusable in any court proceeding or lawsuit. Voice recorder recordings were supposed to be for accident investigation only, not for public release, but the lawsuit on the Lexington wrong runway attempted departure accident eliminated that.

  3. This long-running feud is a classic case of conflict between the “Cost cannot be a consideration where [FILL IN BLANK] is concerned” group and those who feel cost-benefit considerations should always be factored into the decision.

    Membership of the former group invariably includes few, if any, who expect to be paying any significant portion of the cost.

  4. This may seem impractical, but as someone who flies both fixed wing Turbojets and Rotocraft, a more sensible approach is to require that every pilot flying rotorcraft for hire is instrument rated and current so that a pop up IFR clearance is not a terrifying event. Perhaps a wing leveling system would be cost effective enough to use as a back-up. We in the helicopter industry have brought this on ourselves by not maintaining a high standard of instrument training as we fixed wing pilots are required to do at great cost…..

  5. Can anyone tell me how cockpit recorders (FDR and CVR) would have prevented the Bryant crash or ones like it?

    Can anyone tell me how terrain awareness (TAWS) would stop inadvertent VFR into IMC and consequent loss of control?

    I didn’t think so.

    How about this instead:

    1. We require all helicopter pilots flying passengers for hire to be instrument proficient and current not just have the rating.

    2. We require any legislators proposing aviation regulations to have at least a private pilot certificate and be current.

    #1 would have prevented the Bryant crash as well as others since it was with little doubt inadvertent VFR into IMC with subsequent LOC.

    #2 would keep incompetent and ignorant politicians from clotting up our regulations with needless rules that do not address the problems they allegedly are trying to solve.

    I’d gladly trade having to maintain instrument proficiency for having people like DiFi STFU.

    When are people going to get it that no machine can solve the stupidity problem?