Case Reintroduces Measure To Impose Strict Safety Requirements And Provide For State And Local Community Disruption Regulation On Commercial Air Tour Operations
Case's co-introducers include House Judiciary Committee ranking member Jerry Nadler, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee senior Democrat Eleanor Holmes Norton, and Case's Hawai'i colleague Jill Tokuda
News Release from Office of Rep Ed Case, D-Oahu
Washington, DC, February 20, 2023
(Washington, DC) – U.S. Representative Ed Case (HI-01) today announced reintroduction in the current 118th Congress of his Safe and Quiet Skies Act to impose strict safety regulations on commercial air tour operations to include helicopters and small planes.
H.R. 1071 would direct the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which has virtually exclusive jurisdiction over such aircraft, to adopt tighter safety recommendations long advanced by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in the wake of repeated deadly crashes across the country.
The measure would also authorize state and local government to impose reasonable conditions of the operation of such aircraft to address worsening noise and other community disruption from increasingly frequent and intrusive operations.
“My Hawai'i is but one example of these worsening concerns nationwide. For too many years, Hawai‘i has seen deadly crashes of commercial air tour helicopters, including in residential neighborhoods, and far too many dead from the crashes of commercial skydiving planes.” said Case.
“Following just three of the most recent tragedies at Kailua, Kaua'i and Dillingham Airfield, which are not isolated instances nationally, the NTSB, which is responsible for investigating accidents but not for direct safety regulation, suggested strongly and directly to the FAA that safety-related regulation of commercial tour helicopters and small aircraft skydiving operations is generally insufficient.
“These tragedies occurred amidst a rapid increase in commercial helicopter and small plane overflights of all parts of Hawai‘i including residential, commercial and industrial neighborhoods, cemeteries and memorials, land and marine parks and other recreation areas, and sensitive military installations. These have disrupted whole communities with excessive noise and other impacts, destroyed the peace and sanctity of special places, increased risk to not only passengers but those on the ground, and weakened security and management of defense operations.
"Clearly the FAA should now follow the NTSB’s lead before any more lives are lost, and clearly Congress must act to protect lives and property and to allow communities to regulate against unacceptable disruption if as is clear the FAA will not.”
The bill is introduced as Congress takes up reauthorization of the FAA. Case is joined in its introduction by Rep, Jerry Nadler (NY), the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (Washington, DC), the senior Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to which the bill was referred and which will address FAA reauthorization, Rep. Nydia Velazquez (NY), the ranking member of the House Small Business Committee, and Reps. Brad Sherman (CA), Dan Goldman (NY) and Jill Tokuda (HI).
"I am proud to join Representative Ed Case in introducing this legislation to direct the FAA to finally adopt National Transportation Safety Board recommendations that will increase the safety of commercial air tours and prohibit flights over federal properties like National Parks and cemeteries that deserve privacy, dignity, and respect," said Rep. Nadler.
"Last year, nearly eight thousand commercial air tours flew over National Parks of New York Harbor Management Unit sites, which include national treasures like the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
“The large volume of commercial air tours over these sites are increasingly unsafe and create substantial quality of life issues for New Yorkers and tourists alike through noise and environmental impacts. I have repeatedly called on the FAA to impose additional regulations to address this issue. Not only has the FAA failed to act, they recently agreed to a new Voluntary Agreement with helicopter tour operators that makes the situation worse.
“I am proud to join my colleagues in authoring legislation to place needed restrictions on commercial air tour operations. Low-flying tourist helicopters and small planes are both a nuisance and a clear danger: it’s time we put an end to reckless joyrides over New York City.”
“As co-chair of the Quiet Skies Caucus, I am proud to co-lead this legislation to improve safety and reduce community disruption from commercial air tours,” said Rep. Norton. “It is past time for the FAA to follow the safety recommendations of the National Transportation Safety Board.”
The Quiet Skies Caucus counts close to 60 members of Congress including Reps. Case, Nadler and Norton who seek to raise awareness on the issue of aircraft noise and find meaningful solutions to the problem.
Case continued: “This current situation is not acceptable for both safety and community impact concerns. Regarding ground disruption and risk, the FAA takes the position that its responsibility is strictly operational safety and national airspace efficiency and does not extend to ground disruption and other negative impacts.
“As a result, the operators, aside from strict takeoff and approach, avoidance of established flight paths and other limited circumstances, are virtually free to fly wherever, whenever and as often as they want. And they do, with little to no self-regulation.
“My Safe and Quiet Skies Act will further mandate strict regulation of commercial air tour operations to address defense risks and community disruption, including no overflights of defense, national parks and cemeteries, and other sensitive installations and minimum altitude maximum noise limits on all flights. Additionally, it will allow states, localities, and tribes to impose stricter regulations on tour flights in their jurisdictions, to include time, route and frequency, with required public engagement.”
The measure's reintroduction follows funding and related provisions included in the Fiscal Year 2023 Omnibus Appropriations bill that funds $19 billion for the FAA, including $1.6 billion for aviation safety and Case’s call for additional funding for the FAA’s community engagement capacity. The bill also requires the FAA to make aggregated information about noise complaints available to the public and includes Case’s request to direct the FAA to work with other federal agencies, including the Department of Defense, to participate in community engagement to address noise concerns. Case serves on the House Appropriations Committee and helped to draft and pass the bill through Congress.
Building on these efforts, the Safe and Quiet Skies Act would:
- Require that tour flights fly above the 1,500-foot altitude over actual ground at all times with very limited exceptions for emergencies and takeoff/landing.
- Require tour flights over occupied areas (including residential, commercial and recreational areas) to be no louder than 55 dbA, the same level of noise commonly allowed for residential areas.
- Allow states and localities to impose additional requirements – stricter than the minimum national requirements called for in the Act – on tour flights.
- Require that all regulations under this Act, in addition to any updates to any Air Tours Common Procedure Manuals (voluntary understandings between operators and the FAA), include public engagement.
- Prohibit tour flights over military installations, national cemeteries, national wilderness areas, national parks, and national wildlife refuges.
- Apply the “sterile cockpit rule” to tour flights, which requires that pilots only focus on safely operating the aircraft and would define tour-giving and narrating as outside of the duties required for safe operation.
- Require FAA to implement NTSB recommendations regarding Part 135 regulations, which most tour flights fly under.
- Require all tour flights to fly under Part 135 regulations and prohibit tour flights from flying under less restrictive Part 91 regulations.
Attachments: Text of the Safe and Quiet Skies Act and section-by-section summary.