In the aftermath of the fatal California crash that claimed the lives of nine people, including Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna, advocates are calling for tighter regulations for helicopters, with one congressman introducing an act that would require all choppers to come equipped with a safety system that’s already in use on some aircraft.
On 28 January, National Transportation Safety Board member Jennifer Homendy revealed that the helicopter in question didn’t have a terrain awareness and warning system (TAWS) that would sound an alarm if it’s too close to the ground. Per the AP, the NTSB recommended equipping all helicopters with six or more passenger seats with the technology after a similar aircraft crashed back in 2004; a decade later, the Federal Aviation Administration finally mandated TAWS on air ambulances, but drew the line there.
“We are a helicopter-centric country, and we don't do enough for safety," aviation attorney Gary Robb told ABC News.
Investigators believe the pilot could have lost control in the fog, the AP reports. But the cause of the crash is still unknown, and there’s no evidence yet that the equipment could have averted the accident – though Homendy told reporters that “certainly, TAWS could have helped,” according to NBC News.
In response to the accident, California congressman Brad Sherman introduced the Kobe Bryant and Gianna Bryant Helicopter Safety Act on 30 January, requiring the FAA to strengthen federal safety standards and equip all helicopters with TAWS. “Had this system been on the helicopter, it is likely the tragic crash could have been avoided,” Sherman’s office noted in a press release.
From aerial views of the National Parks to operators offering a birds’-eye view of Vietnam’s Halong Bay to Uber providing airport transfers via chopper in NYC, helicopters have long been a draw for travelers looking to see the bigger picture.
“We know from the US Helicopter Safety Team’s latest numbers that the helicopter sector has a fatal accident rate of approximately 0.63 per 100,000 hours...well below the overall general aviation rate of approximately 0.94,” FAA administrator Stephen M. Dickson said in a speech at the Helicopter Association International Heli-Expo on 28 January. The FAA, he added, is conducting research with systems to add stability when things are shaky, simulators for realistic training exercises, and enhanced vision technologies to help pilots see in suboptimal conditions – with an accident rate of zero as its ultimate goal.
“There’s too much at stake to wait until the next accident occurs to figure out how to operate more safely,” Dickson said. “We have to identify accident and incident precursors so we can take actions to prevent them.”