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On September 23, 2005, an Aerospatiale AS350BA helicopter, N355NT, operated by Heli-USA Airways, Inc., as a 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 135 sightseeing air tour flight, encountered adverse weather and crashed into the Pacific Ocean several hundred feet off the coast of Kailiu Point, near Haena, Hawaii.1 Although three of the five passengers died of drowning or drowning-related circumstances, none of the passengers or the pilot received any serious injuries during the crash sequence. According to the pilot and the two surviving passengers, after the helicopter settled on the water, it rolled to the right and began to sink immediately.
TO THE FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION: Require that all helicopters used in commercial air tour operations over water, regardless of the amount of time over water, be amphibious or equipped with fixed or inflatable floats.
Original recommendation transmittal letter:
Closed - Unacceptable Action
Haena, HI, United States
Weather Encounter and Subsequent Crash into the Pacific Ocean, Heli-USA Airways, Inc., Aerospatiale AS350BA, N355NT
Addressee(s) and Addressee Status:
FAA (Closed - Unacceptable Action)
Air Tours, Water Survival
Safety Recommendation History
We do not believe that the over-water requirements specified in (1) Letter of Authorization (LOA), B548, or (2) Part 136, Commercial Air Tour and National Parks Air Tour Management, meet the intent of this recommendation. Safety Recommendation A-07-27 is intended to apply to all helicopters used in commercial air tour service over water and, although both the LOA and Part 136 include a requirement, we remain concerned that helicopters equipped with more than one engine or flown within auto-rotation distance from the shore are exempt from the requirement. We point out that in the Heli-USA accident, the ditching emergency was not related to a loss of engine power. We also point out that the accident helicopter was initially traveling over the shore, but ended up over the ocean as the emergency progressed. We believe that the accident helicopter would have been exempt from this requirement because, as the LOA states, “the manufacturer’s performance data allows the helicopter to auto-rotate beyond the shoreline to a suitable landing area….” The FAA indicated that, if a helicopter must be flown beyond a distance where it can safely auto-rotate to shore, the helicopter must be equipped with flotation equipment, or all passengers must be wearing personal flotation devices. We note that, although the accident passengers and pilot each wore a waist pouch containing an FAA-approved, quick-donning PFD, compliant with LOA B548, not all passengers were able to don their PFD, exit the helicopter, and properly inflate the PFD, even though all were physically capable of doing so. We continue to believe that passengers would have had the opportunity to don their PFDs and exit the helicopter successfully had the helicopter been equipped with fixed or inflatable floats. Because the FAA indicated that its actions in response to Safety Recommendation A 07 27 are complete and it intends no further action, the recommendation is classified CLOSED—UNACCEPTABLE ACTION.
-From Michael P. Huerta, Administrator: As stated in our May 17, 2007, letter to the Board, air tour operators over Hawaii must comply with the operations specification (OpSpec) requirement that all helicopters used in commercial air tours over water beyond the shoreline must be equipped with fixed floats or an inflatable system adequate to accomplish a safe emergency water landing. An exception is made for multi-engine helicopters and when the helicopter is flown within auto-rotation distance from the shore. At the time of the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) 2007 letter, this requirement was found in OpSpec B048. In 2008, the OpSpec was revised and simplified. The revision moved the over-water requirement into a new Letter of Authorization (LOA), B548, (enclosed) for operations conducted under part 91. Air tour operators conducting flights under part 135 must comply with part 136, Commercial Air Tours and National Parks Air Tour Management, which reiterates these over-water operations requirements. In the Board's September 20, 2007, letter, it stated that it did not concur that the OpSpec over-water safety requirement was adequate because of the exceptions. The FAA disagrees with the Board's assessment. Flight safety is predicated on three principal conditions: equipment, environment, and pilot training. Equipment deals with the aircraft's capabilities and is fully addressed in paragraphs B548 5(c)(2) through (5), which states that a helicopter must be able to fly at an altitude that would allow it to reach land and a suitable landing area in the event of an engine failure, a helicopter is capable of climb performance in the event of loss of an engine in a multi-engine helicopter, or a helicopter is equipped with FAA-approved helicopter flotation devices. For air tour operations under part 135, these requirements are reiterated in §§ 135.183, 136.9, and 136.11. Appendix A to part 136 - Special Operating Rules for Air Tour Operators in the State of Hawaii, Section 3, also addresses the issue of air tour operations over water in Hawaii. Environmental conditions, as they relate to this recommendation, are the land or water that will be the ultimate set down point for the helicopter in the event of loss of power. The subparagraphs are explicit in both LOA B548 and §§ 135.183, 136.9, and 136.11 in stating that when the helicopter is flown under conditions where it would be unable to reach land in the event of a loss of power, it must have floats. The FAA feels that multi-engine helicopters capable of reaching the shore in the event of the loss of one engine or single-engine helicopters that can auto-rotate to shore based on altitude should not be required to be equipped with fixed or inflatable floats. In the case of single-engine helicopters, pilots are trained to always operate their aircraft within parameters that would allow them to auto-rotate to land in the event of loss of power. Part 135, subpart H, mandates pilot training for all pilots operating under part 135, including part 135 air tour operations. Part 136 specifically addresses the issue of air tour flights over water. LOA B548 clearly mandates that pilots must be trained to operate over water at an altitude and within a distance from shore that is " . .. within the normal auto-rotate gliding distance of the rotorcraft in accordance with the rotorcraft flight manual ... " [Condition 5(c)(4)], or, in the case of a multi-engine helicopter, " .. . capable of climbing at least 50 feet a minute, at an altitude of 1,000 feet above the surface, with the critical engine inoperative ... " [Conditions 5( c )(3) and 5( d)(l)]. Finally, part 136, appendix A, section 4, specifically requires a helicopter performance plan be completed before each individual air tour flight, thus ensuring that the pilot will quantitatively know the minimum altitude and maximum distance from shore he/she must maintain for each flight. In the case of Hawaii air tours, pilots are expressly forbidden from operating where they cannot safely auto-rotate to shore. Pilots are thoroughly trained to operate within those limits and are not permitted to exceed them. If a helicopter must be flown beyond a distance where it can safely auto-rotate to shore, the helicopter must be equipped with flotation equipment, or all passengers must wear (not just have available) personal flotation devices (part 135, appendix A, Section 3(b)). The requirement that a helicopter must be able to safely auto-rotate to shore in the event of loss of power is essentially removed when that helicopter has multiple engines, since loss of an engine in that case would still allow the craft to return to shore on its remaining engine. I believe that the FAA has effectively addressed this recommendation, and I consider our actions complete.
The Safety Board notes that on March 9, 2007, the FAA published Operations Specification (OpSpec) paragraph B-048 (e)(4)(c), which states that all helicopters used in commercial air tours over water beyond the shoreline must be equipped with fixed floats or an inflatable system adequate to accomplish a safe emergency water landing unless it is a multi-engine helicopter capable of climbing at least 50 feet a minute, at an altitude of 1,000 feet above the surface, with the critical engine inoperative, or the manufacturer’s performance data allows the helicopter to auto-rotate beyond the shoreline to a suitable landing area that provides the operator reasonable capability to land without damage to equipment or injury to persons (emphasis added). The FAA states its belief that issuance of this OpSpec meets the intent of this recommendation. The Safety Board disagrees. The recommendation is that all helicopters used in commercial air tour service over water be required to have the equipment specified in OpSpec B-048. However, the OpSpec exempts from this requirement helicopters meeting the performance conditions stated above. The Board points out that in the Heli-USA accident that prompted this recommendation, the helicopter was being operated over water and near the shoreline when it encountered adverse weather and crashed into the Pacific Ocean several hundred feet off the coast. The Board is concerned that the Heli-USA flight would not have been subject to the requirements in OpSpec B-048, paragraph (e)(4)(c), yet the presence of the flotation equipment would have aided survival of the people on board the helicopters. Consequently, pending issuance of a requirement that all helicopters used in commercial air tour operations over water, regardless of the amount of time spent over water or the distance of the shoreline, be amphibious or equipped with fixed or inflatable floats, Safety Recommendation A-07-27 is classified OPEN -- UNACCEPTABLE RESPONSE.
Letter Mail Controlled 5/31/2007 8:43:36 AM MC# 2070239: - From Marion C. Blakey, Administrator: 5/17/07 The Federal Aviation Administration believes that the recently published Operations Specification paragraph B-048 (e)(4)©, dated March 9, 2007, addresses this recommendation. The paragraph states that On or before September 5, 2008, all helicopters used in commercial air tours over water beyond the shoreline must be equipped with fixed floats or an inflatable system adequate to accomplish a safe emergency water landing unless it is a multi-engine helicopter capable of climbing at least 50 feet a minute, at an altitude of 1,000 feet above the surface, with the critical engine inoperative, or the manufacturer’s performance data allows the helicopter to auto-rotate beyond the shoreline to a suitable landing area that provides the operator reasonable capability to land without damage to equipment or injury to persons. I have enclosed a copy of Operations Specification paragraph B-048 for the Board’s information. I believe that the FAA has satisfactorily responded to this safety recommendation, and 1 look forward to your response.
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