Sending Office: Honorable Ed Case
In the last few months Hawai’i has seen three dead in the crash of a commercial air tour helicopter into a residential neighborhood and eleven more dead in the crash of a commercial skydiving plane. These tragedies occurred amidst a rapid increase in commercial
helicopter and small plane overflights of all parts of my state 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.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) currently has virtually exclusive jurisdiction over these aircraft operations. Following both of these recent tragedies, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which is responsible for investigating accidents
but not for direct safety regulation, strongly suggested to the FAA that safety-related regulation of commercial tour helicopters and small aircraft skydiving operations is generally insufficient.
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. 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.
This situation is unacceptable for both safety and community impact concerns. It is also not limited to Hawai’i, with growing concerns in other areas with high commercial tour usage, more dense populations, valuable natural resources, significant defense
installations and other factors.
If you and your communities share these concerns, I invite you to cosponsor my proposed Safe and Quiet Skies Act. This bill would first require the FAA to implement the NTSB’s recommended enhanced safety regulations. It would also prohibit flights over federal
property that requires privacy, dignity and respect, to include military installations, national cemeteries and national parks, wildlife refuges and wilderness. It would further require the use of standard equipment to monitor the location of flights, apply
the “sterile cockpit rule” to tour flights (meaning in part that the pilot could not also be the tour guide), prohibit flights lower than 1,500 feet over actual ground, and limit decibel levels to those commonly applied to operations in residential areas.
Additionally, the bill would allow states, localities, and tribes to impose stricter regulations on tour flights in their jurisdictions with required public engagement. A section-by-section summary of the bill is attached.
Please join me in increasing the safety of commercial air tours and addressing the community disruption and other negative impacts of such operations. Thank you for your consideration, and please contact Anthony Ching at
Anthony.firstname.lastname@example.org or 5-2726 if you have any questions or would like to cosponsor the Safe and Quiet Skies Act.
Safe and Quiet Skies Act
Section 1 – Short Title
- Safe and Quiet Skies Act
Section 2 – Requirements for Commercial Air Tour Flights
- Prohibits tour flights over military installations, national cemeteries, national wilderness areas, national parks, and national wildlife refuges.
- Current law has no prohibitions on where tours can fly.
- Military installations can have flight restrictions imposed based on national security concerns, but this is not uniformly applied or enforced.
- Current law requires air tour management plans over national parks, but only the Grand Canyon National Park has one.
- Requires Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) out equipment on all tour aircraft and to be utilized for the entirety of tour flights. ADS-B is a system for broadcasting and receiving aircraft identification, position, altitude, heading, and
speed data derived from on-board navigation systems such as a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver.
- Current regulation requires air ADS-B out capability for certain aircraft by 2020 and varies on when the equipment must be in use (usually based on proximity to certain airports).
- Applies 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.
- The rule currently applies to commercial airlines, but not tour flights.
- Requires that tour flights always fly above 1,500 feet altitude over actual ground with very limited exceptions for emergencies.
- Currently, there is a wide variety of regulations on the altitude requirement for tour flights and a significant amount of discretion given to the FAA to allow for deviation from altitude requirements.
- Requires 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.
- Current regulations outline higher noise limit requirements for FAA certification of an aircraft with multiple methods of measurement.
Section 3 – Delegated Authority to State and Local Regulators
- Allows states and localities to impose requirements (in addition to the minimum national requirements of Section 2) on tour flights.
- FAA takes the position that under current law the scope of a state or locality’s ability to impose restrictions on tour flights is very limited.
Section 4 – Public Engagement Throughout Federal and State Regulatory Process
- Requires that all regulations under this act, including updating any Air Tours Common Procedure Manual, includes public engagement.
- Currently, FAA does not require public comment or engagement on updates to the Air Tours Common Procedures Manual, which is the current de facto regulation for tour flights.
Section 5 – Penalties
- Requires FAA to impose penalties on tour flights that violate this act including revoking certifications and permits to operate tour flights.
Section 6 – Conforming Edits
- Makes edits to current law to implement this act.
- Includes edits to ensure native tribes have the same authority as states and localities under Section 3 of this act.
Section 7 – NTSB Recommendations
- Requires FAA to implement National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommendations regarding Part 135 regulations, which most tour flights fly under.
- Requires all tour flights to fly under Part 135 regulations and prohibits tour flights from flying under less restrictive Part 91 regulations.
Section 8 – Definitions
- Defines terms in the act
- Includes skydiving operations (“intentional parachuting”) under the definition of “commercial air tour.”
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