Federal auditors will probe the Federal Aviation Administration’s oversight of “doors-off” tourist helicopters like the one that left five passengers dead in an East River crash last year.
The investigation by the Department of Transportation Inspector General was quickly hailed Thursday by New York senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, who have long questioned the risk aspect of the flights where harnessed passengers lean out of flying choppers to snap photos of the city below.
“These ‘doors-off’ helicopter tours may offer an Instagram-worthy experience, but they have shown they can put passengers in insta-danger,” said Schumer. “This formal and deep-dive investigation comes while the doors-off flights continue to occur ... at deep summer discounts, to boot.”
The FlyNYON website is offering 40% off on two of its most popular flights: A 16-minute doors-off trip above Manhattan for $249 a seat, along with a 30-minute excursion at $499 per person.
“I’m glad the Inspector General is finally opening an audit to investigate the standards that may have cost innocent lives,” said Gillibrand. “We need this audit to insure that the FAA is doing everything possible to protect passengers on flights that for too long have been minimally regulated.”
In the March 11, 2018, crash, the passengers were tightly harnessed inside the chartered Liberty Helicopters flight — with the heavy-duty straps perhaps ultimately preventing their escape from the downed craft, according to Schumer. Liberty no longer offers any “doors-off” tours.
The audit, coordinated with the National Transportation Safety Board, should start later this month.
The probe will examine the FAA’s “processes for review and approval of supplemental restraints for open-door helicopter operations and oversight of company use of supplemental restraints,” said Matthew Hampton, assistant inspector general for aviation audits.
A FlyNYON representative a statement applauding the audit.
“We appreciate and stand ready to support smart actions that allow for enhanced helicopter safety and to grow even more jobs in the greater New York City area," read the statement. “FlyNYON stands ready to work with anyone who wants to pass common sense rules that create more jobs and ensures safety.”
On its website, FlyNYON assures potential customers that its aircraft are “maintained to strict FAA Regulatory standards” while all passengers and equipment are "safely secured and doubled checked prior to take off.”
©2019 New York Daily News
Visit New York Daily News at www.nydailynews.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.