Aerial sightseeing tours can provide unique and breathtaking views of some of the country’s most beautiful sights. Aerial tours of the islands of Hawaii, the Grand Canyon, the Alaskan wilderness and the skyline of New York City are just a few of the most popular tourist adventures.
People typically assume that if an established company with positive reviews and brochures in their hotel is behind these flights, they must be subject to all kinds of government safety regulations. But are they?
A deadly crash in New York City revealed a problem
The crash of a helicopter flying over New York City in March 2018 exposed a significant – and dangerous – loophole in federal regulations of these flights. All five people aboard the helicopter drowned after it lost power and ended up in the East River because they were strapped into their seats with unapproved restraints.
In the past five years, at least 40 people have lost their lives during flights aboard helicopters, WW II-era planes and other aircraft that were able to evade government commercial aviation regulations. The New York City helicopter flight did so because it was ostensibly for “aerial photography.” Even flights for charter and business purposes are subject to different safety regulations than commercial flights.
A long-running problem
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has been aware of the safety issue around aircraft tours for years. One former NTSB chairman says, “This was an issue when I was chairman of the NTSB [in the 1990s] and is a growing issue.”
After three fatal crashes (two in Alaska and one in Hawaii) within a period of about a month in 2019, the issue gained media attention again. At the time, the chairman of the NTSB said that “each crash underscores the urgency of improving the safety of charter flights by implementing existing NTSB safety recommendations.”
It should be noted that the NTSB doesn’t have the authority to do more than issue recommendations to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and other entities. However, those recommendations, particularly in the aftermath of preventable fatalities, can bring about change.
If you have been injured or lost a loved one in an aerial sightseeing crash that you believe was the result of negligence, inadequate safety measures or errors, it’s wise to seek legal guidance. This can help you hold the appropriate parties accountable.