Schatz, Hirono Introduce New Legislation To Protect Passengers On Air Tours, Strengthen Safety Of Skydiving Flights

More Than 4,500 People Nationwide Have Tragically Died On Smaller, Less Regulated Air Tours Since 2009

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) and Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawai‘i) today introduced new legislation that will help protect passengers on air tours and improve the safety of skydiving flights in Hawai‘i and across the country.

“The tragic number of air tour accidents we’ve seen in Hawai‘i have made it clear that we need to do more to protect passengers and pilots,” Senator Schatz said. “Our new bill will apply essential safety standards recommended by the NTSB, protecting passengers and improving the safety of air tours for everyone.”

“It is critical that the helicopters and planes taking visitors and residents sightseeing or parachuting operate as safely as possible,” Senator Hirono said. “The legislation we are introducing will strengthen the rules to ensure accountability and safety for Hawai‘i's aviation operators and travelers. We have waited long enough for action by the Federal Aviation Administration after too many tragedies.”

Currently, because of a gap in federal law, certain small commercial air tour operators are subject to less stringent safety standards – known as “Part 91” under U.S. Federal Aviation Regulations – that were intended for small, private recreational flights. Most commercial air tours and charter flight operators are subject to more rigorous safety and training standards – known as “Part 135.” While Part 135 flights are safer on average, more than 60 people have died in flights under both parts in Hawai‘i, with half of those fatalities coming in the last 18 months. The Schatz-Hirono bill closes the loophole for Part 91 commercial operators and improves Part 135 regulations to be more in line with those of larger flight operations.

The Air Tour and Skydiving Safety Improvement Act will require small aircraft tour operators to:

  • Install “black box” crash-resistant recording devices on all aircrafts;
  • Monitor flights remotely for potential safety risks; and
  • Train and install warning systems for remote terrain flights.

The bill will also require the Federal Aviation Authority to develop uniform national safety standards.

The new legislation will also implement the recommendations made by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) on skydiving flights following an investigation into the skydiving plane crash that tragically killed 11 people in Hawai‘i last year. The bill will standardize maintenance and pilot training programs to meet the unique needs of skydiving operations.

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