June 15, 2020

Schumer, Gillibrand Co-Sponsor Bill To Make Safety Equipment Mandatory On Helicopters

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand co-sponsored the Helicopter Safety Act of 2020, a bill to require terrain awareness and warning systems, crash-resistant flight data, and voice recorders on all helicopters that carry six or more passengers. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Representative Brad Sherman (D-CA) introduced this bicameral legislation.

Since 2006, the National Transportation Safety Board has issued and re-issued recommendations urging this safety equipment be mandatory on helicopters. Yet, the FAA only requires certain helicopters, such as air ambulances, to carry it.

“Despite tragic helicopter crashes across the country and here in New York—from FlyNYON to the crash last year on a Manhattan tower—the installation of chopper warning systems and crash-resistant flight data and voice recorders has remained an elusive, basic safety standard the federal government has failed to mandate. The bill we introduced this week would heed safety recommendations the NTSB has all but begged for and ones New Yorkers know are badly needed,” said Senator Schumer.

“After the tragic 2018 East River helicopter crash, New Yorkers continue to demand safer regulations to prevent this from ever happening again,” said Senator Gillibrand. “We owe it to the memories of these five people lost too soon to pass the Helicopter Safety Act of 2020. I proudly join my colleagues to get this bill done, especially given the high volume of helicopters operating in the NY metro area.”

In the immediate aftermath of the March 2018 incident, Senators Schumer and Gillibrand called for inspector general and NTSB investigations into the crash. Currently, an exception to FAA regulations permit certain ‘doors-off’ sightseeing flights to operate for aerial photography purposes. This loophole excludes ‘doors-off’ flights from the more stringent federal regulations and oversight. The flight that killed the five passengers was designed to allow passengers to take photographs while extending their legs outside the helicopter, resulting in them wearing dangerous supplemental restraints that hampered their ability to escape when the helicopter’s flotation system failed to fully deploy after crashing into the East River. 

Full text of the bill is available here.