After several deadly crashes in recent years, Federal safety officials are pushing for stricter oversight of air tour operators and hot-air balloon rides.
On Tuesday, the National Transportation Safety Board asked the Federal Aviation Administration to raise safety requirements for passenger-carrying operations, which fall under less restrictive regulations thantraining and maintenance.
“Whenonboard an aircraft as paying passengers, they have the right to trust that the flight will be operated as safely as possible,” NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said at the end of a board hearing.
Some airplane and helicopter tours operate under rules for “general aviation,” which mainly covers private. Safety said some operators exploit loopholes in FAA regulations to avoid stricter oversight.
In a statement, the FAA said it “has several initiatives underway tothe safety” of passenger-carrying general aviation operations, including requiring air tour operators to have safety-management programs and requiring balloon pilots to pass medical exams.
Under current FAA rules, air tours are subject to more inspections than other private planes, terms must take off and land at the same airport, andand alcohol testing programs for employees. NTSB members said, however, those steps aren’t enough and that some tour by how they describe their flights.
Board members cited a 2018 helicopter tour over New York City that used an exception granted for aerial photography when it crashed, killing all five passengers, and the 2017that killed the pilot and passenger – it was operating as an instructional flight.
“This is one of the most egregious examples of exploiting a loophole, in my opinion,” board member Jennifer Homendy said of the California crash. She told the operator, Sky Combat Ace, advertised an “adrenaline rush package” and other thrill-seeking rides. “Does that sound like a flight school?”
The company disputed Homenday’s comments.
The reason we operate under flight instruction regulations … is that all of our customers take the controls of our aircraft under the supervision of one of our highly trained, certified flight instructors,” spokesperson Megan Fazio said in a statement. Fazio said the company doesn’t fit the FAA definition of an air tour operator, and “our pilots have a higher level of certification than air tour operators require.
might have prevented the 2019 Connecticut crash of a World War II-era bomber that killed seven people and the 2016 crash of a hot air balloon in Texas that killed the pilot and all 15 passengers. The NTSB blamed poor decision-making by the pilot as the probable cause of the , the worst U.S. aviation accident since 2009. The NTSB made six new recommendations and reprised two previous ones to the FAA to set new safety and provide more guidance to FAA inspectors who monitor them.