A letter from EAA and AOPA to FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt discourages any rash reactions to the tragic mid-air collision between a small airplane and a sightseeing helicopter in New York City’s Hudson River corridor August 8, which claimed nine lives. The letter is at http://eaa.org/news/2009/090817_letter.pdf .
“Acting precipitously, without all the facts, may have unintended consequences while failing to improve safety or prevent future problems,” reads the letter signed by EAA President and Chairman Tom Poberezny and AOPA President and CEO Craig Fuller.
The days since that crash have heard calls for a variety of actions from lawmakers, the media, and the general public - raging from closing down the airspace, requiring new equipment on aircraft, imposing new altitude requirements for transiting aircraft, and other measures.
A joint news release says, "The voice of reason has come from New York Mayor and private pilot Michael Bloomberg, who urges patience until the NTSB and FAA complete their investigations." The two organizations, representing more than a half-million members of the aviation community, concur. “To take action in the absence of the facts could cause more problems than it resolves,” the letter reads.
EAA and AOPA especially take issue with the various descriptions of the corridor as the “Wild West,” citing that hundreds of aircraft safely traverse the Hudson River Corridor each day and no other mid-air accidents have taken place in the corridor in nearly 50 years.
Late last week, the FAA convened a New York Airspace Working Group to review the current operating procedures over the Hudson and East rivers and make recommendations to Administrator Babbitt in two weeks.The group will solicit comments from helicopter and aircraft operators and will review air traffic and pilot procedures before making its report to Babbitt on August 28.
The United States Air Tour Association (USATA) has also called for a “lowering of the noise level” on issues regarding the safety of air tour flights along the Hudson River in New York.
“Even though the accident that occurred this past weekend was indeed tragic, I would expect a more restrained and measured response, particularly from those who suggest that flights within the VFR corridor are unregulated -- which, of course, is nonsense -- or who have termed the FAA’s approach to regulatory oversight a ‘Wild West approach to Hudson River airspace,’” said Steve Bassett, the association’s president.
“Statements such as these are provocative and not at all productive, and the attack on the air tour community is unfair and unwarranted. What is important now is for everyone to calm down and let the experts at the NTSB do their job. There will be more than enough time to deal with other issues once the formal investigation has been completed.”
NATA struck a similar note last Monday, August 10, “The association and its members express our deepest sympathies to those affected by this tragic accident,” explained National Air Transportation Association President James K. Coyne. “While events such as last weekend’s are extremely rare, they do create an intense focus on the operations involved and can, unfortunately, lead to an environment ripe with speculation and misinformation.”
NATA is concerned with the intense scrutiny being placed on the airspace in which general aviation aircraft operate in the New York City area, as well as the correlations being drawn between the fact that the helicopter involved belongs to a commercial air tour operator and the recent report issued by the Department of Transportation (DOT) Inspector General (IG) criticizing oversight of on-demand operations, such as air tours.
The association asserts the characterization of the airspace as devoid of regulation is inaccurate. The airspace being referred to as “uncontrolled” only indicates that there is no active radar-based control of flights. Operations in this airspace are still subject to numerous regulatory requirements.
NATA said that while the IG report highlighted the differences between regulation and oversight of the airlines and on-demand operations it failed to acknowledge the necessity of differing regulations due to the fact that on-demand operations comprise a vast number of mission profiles and include nearly every size and type of airplane and helicopter.
“There is much work to be done by the National Transportation Safety Board investigators to determine the facts of what happened,” said Coyne. “Regulators and elected officials should reflect upon the outcome of the investigation rather than react to hypothetical scenarios.”
August 17, NATA wrote a letter to Senator Lautenberg on his proposed hearing on safety of on-demand aircraft. The letter is at http://www.nata.aero/News.aspx?newsid=195§ionid=0 .