By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said the failure and inaction of U.S. air safety regulators to implement several proposals contributed to the cause of a 2019 fatal helicopter crash that killed seven in Hawaii.
The seven-seat Airbush AS350 B2 helicopter operated by Safari Aviation crashed in deteriorating weather in a remote area of wooded terrain near Kekaha, Hawaii, killing the pilot and all six passengers. Investigators found that the highly experienced, 69-year-old air tour pilot flew into a mountainous region shrouded in low clouds and fog and was not able to exit the area of limited visibility.
The NTSB cited the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) “delayed implementation of a Hawaii aviation weather camera program, its lack of leadership in the development of a (specialized) weather training program for Hawaii air tour pilots, and its ineffective monitoring and oversight of Hawaii air tour operators’ weather-related operating practices” as a contributing factor in the accident.
“The fact is the FAA should be leading safety, not ceding their responsibility to the industry that they are charged with regulating and overseeing,” NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy said. “We know that the FAA is not providing the necessary leadership because accidents like this continue to happen.
The NTSB reiterated 11 safety recommendations to the FAA.
An FAA spokesman said the agency takes “these recommendations seriously.” He said the FAA has installed five weather cameras in Hawaii “with 21 more coming” and added the agency encourages “air tour operators to equip their aircraft with ADS-B and flight data recorders, and are exploring making recorders mandatory.”
Homendy noted that since 1997, the NTSB has investigated 282 air tour accidents nationwide, including 41 air tour accidents in Hawaii.
Investigators said the pilot’s decision to continue flight into deteriorating visibility was likely influenced by a lack of up-to-the-minute weather information. The NTSB in 2007 recommended the FAA develop and require specialized inflight weather training for air tour operators in Hawaii.