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Tue, Jun 18, 2019

Over-Reach? Schumer Calls For FAA Required 'Black Boxes' On All Helicopters

NTSB Has Made Safety Recommendation For The Data Collection Devices In The Past

Following last week’s Midtown helicopter accident in Manhattan, and with new safety concerns across Long Island, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) is citing a lack of a ‘black box,’ also known as a flight data recorder (FDR), as a cause for serious concern for the ongoing investigation, while also revealing that the NTSB has been trying for years, without success, to compel the FAA to mandate the installation of these often critical data preservers on many helicopter models. Now, Schumer is urging the FAA to heed the longstanding recommendations of the NTSB as it relates to ‘black boxes’ on helicopters and get to work on a plan to see them installed as a basic safety feature.

“To know that the NTSB has been trying for years, without success, to compel the FAA to take action as it relates to making helicopters more valuable to safety by installing flight data recorders is cause for serious concern,” said U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (pictured). “So, in the name of safety, the FAA must take another look at the NTSB’s reports on chopper crashes similar to the one in New York City just last week and propel the safety measures that have been collecting dust for far too long.”

As early as 2013, the NTSB had implored the FAA to mandate the installation of flight data recorders and a cockpit voice recorder in “all newly manufactured turbine-powered, nonexperimental, nonrestricted-category aircraft that are not equipped with a flight data recorder and a cockpit voice recorder.” In later years, the NTSB also urged installation in all existing variations of similar helicopters, as well. Either way, Schumer points out, the recommendations have not been followed.

A major crash that first spurred the NTSB to urge action in this area occurred in 2011.

According to the NTSB, on August 26, 2011, a Eurocopter AS350 B2 helicopter crashed following a loss of engine power as a result of fuel exhaustion near the Midwest National Air Center (GPH) in Mosby, Missouri. The pilot, flight nurse, flight paramedic, and patient were killed, and the helicopter was substantially damaged by impact forces. The helicopter was not equipped, and was not required to be equipped, with any onboard recording devices. The investigation revealed that the pilot did not comply with several company standard operating procedures that, if followed, would have led him to detect the helicopter’s low fuel state before beginning the first leg of the mission.

According to the NTSB, “The ‘black box’ onboard an aircraft records many different operating conditions of the flight. By regulation, newly manufactured aircraft must monitor at least eighty-eight important parameters such as time, altitude, airspeed, heading, and aircraft attitude. In addition, some flight data recorders or FDRs can record the status of more than 1,000 other in-flight characteristics that can aid in the investigation. The items monitored can be anything from flap position to auto-pilot mode or even smoke alarms.

With the data retrieved from the FDR, the Safety Board can generate a computer animated video reconstruction of the flight. The investigator can then visualize the airplane's attitude, instrument readings, power settings and other characteristics of the flight. This animation enables the investigating team to visualize the last moments of the flight before the accident.

Both the Flight Data Recorder and the Cockpit Voice Recorder have proven to be valuable tools in the accident investigation process. They can provide information that may be difficult or impossible to obtain by other means. When used in conjunction with other information gained in the investigation, the recorders are playing an ever increasing role in determining the Probable Cause of an aircraft accident."

Schumer, today, worried the lack of critical on-board data related to the recent Manhattan crash could slow the overall investigation, delay NTSB safety recommendations or, once again, allow the FAA to stall on the issue.

As for why the FAA has not moved on this issue, Schumer explained the agency has said they cannot find a positive cost-benefit to requiring these kinds of devices on helicopters. Schumer disagrees with this stance, and points to the recent New York City crash and concerns across Long Island as reasons for the FAA to act.

“If we are going to have helicopters in the air, even highly regulated in terms of when and where they can fly, they should still have black boxes, if, god forbid, a crash occurs,” added Schumer. “We do this for commercial planes, so it makes all the sense in the world for choppers, too."

"It's unacceptable that for years the FAA has failed to heed NTSB’s call to equip helicopters with black boxes,” said U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. "After last week’s helicopter crash in midtown, the FAA should immediately reconsider the recommendations federal transportation safety investigators have urged since 2011 and take steps now to implement these basic safety features. Flight data recorders provide critical information to help prevent future crashes, and I urge the FAA to act quickly to ensure black boxes are in every helicopter."

Just last week, on Monday, June 10th, Tim McCormack died when the helicopter he piloted for American Continental Properties crashed on the rooftop of a building in Midtown Manhattan. McCormack was the only person on board the privately owned Agusta A109E helicopter and no other people were injured or killed in the crash, according to local law enforcement officials. The helicopter took off from the East 34th Street Heliport around 1:30PM, at a time when the city was experiencing heavy rain, wind and poor visibility. The pilot did not have an instrument rating, which would permit him to fly in such poor weather, the FAA said.

Schumer explained that the National Transportation Safety Board is in the midst of investigating last week’s crash in Manhattan, an investigation Schumer helped spur, which could take as long as 2 years to complete, as reported by CNN. A preliminary report will be released in two weeks but will not shed any light on what caused the tragic crash. According to an NTSB investigator, the helicopter did not have a black box on board and the pilot never communicated with air-traffic control, neither of which was required. Investigators continue to look for other recording devices that were aboard the aircraft but gathering evidence is difficult considering the location of the crash and the post-crash fire.

(Source: Senator Schumer news release. Image from file)

FMI: www.schumer.senate.gov

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