jollyroger's picture

    Before you board that chopper...

    Amid the widespread grief over Kobe Bryant's death, a small lesson in the evils of "regulatory capture" is manifest, and the rich and powerful should pay attention.

    Most of us are familiar with the alarms that sound when a plane is on a trajectory that in pilot-speak understatement, is designated "a controlled flight into terrain." As the situation grows more urgent, a voice will be  generated shouting "PULL UP! PULL UP! PULL UP!"

    The warning is generated by a device called a TAWS (Terrain Awareness and Warning System). It costs about $37,000, plus $7000 in lost revenue for the downtime required to install. If you were rich enough to own your own helicopter, you would certainly want it equipped with one. Bryant, evidently, did not own his own helicopter, but instead used charters for his frequent air commutes.

    Now, it is self evident that rules impacting the safety of helicopter flights will be skewed in their benefit towards the rich and famous who are far more likely than you or I to be passengers.

    In 2014, the FAA (Yes, that's the Obama FAA) decided that the benefits of installation, when weighed against the cited $44,000 costs, did not justify mandating the devices (already required for air ambulances) for charter operators like the one carrying Bryant, his daughter, and the several accompanying friends. The helicopter on which they were riding, of course, costs 13 million dollars, give or take. Notwithstanding NTSB's recommendation for a mandate, the FAA decided that imposing this (trivial) extra expense was too heavy-handed a regulatory burden.

    We may safely assume that if Bryant had known that there was a device with such obvious utility missing from the copter he (and his DAUGHTER!) were on, he would have changed charter operators, or even bought his own copter.

    The litigation which doubtless looms may provide an incentive for the air charter industry to meet the safety standard that the FAA chose to make optional, or the FAA under the resultant scrutiny, may reverse its complaisance.

    Either way, the larger lesson is unavoidable: Sometimes (often? always?) mindless deregulation (Repugnants, I'm talkin' to you) can bite you in the ass, and (albeit rarely) money may not protect you from the generalized risks that result.

    Comments

    NTSB requested the FAA to retrofit all Sikorsky S-76 helicopters in 2006. The TAWS had been required since at least 2002 in all new helicopters that carry 6 or more passengers.

    In 2014 the FAA required TAWS on air ambulance helicopters as "they frequently operate at night and bad weather" ... and apparently due to a record of dozens of fatal accidents of air ambulances, many into terrain,  tragedies that finally forced the FAA to at least act to upgrade air ambulances, fixed wing aircraft and rotor.

    (Between January 2002 and January 2005, 55 EMS aircraft accidents occurred in the United States these accidents resulted in 54 fatalities, Of these 55 EMS aircraft accidents, 41 were helicopter EMS accidents, 16 of which were fatal, resulting in a total of 39 fatalities) link


    It gets worse...

     

    Notwithstanding his pilot was "instrument flight certified", his charter company was not. 

     

    What does this mean?  It means you gotta fly UNDER the cloud cover.  This, of course, runs counter to the mandate that one fly OVER the  mountain...

     

    https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/30/us/kobe-bryant-crash-flight-certifica...


    I just read your link. Some things stand out in it that means no success at winning a lawsuit, my highlighting

    None of the local charter companies maintain certification that allows them to fly using instruments, said Claudia Lowry, who owns Group 3 Aviation, a charter service and flight school based at the same airport in Van Nuys as Island Express. I.F.R. certification would mean drastically increased training, equipment and insurance requirements. Even local police helicopters do not maintain it, she said.

    “It’s not worth it, we don’t fly in that kind of weather anyway,” Ms. Lowry said. “And most of the time the weather is good.”

    and furthermore

    The helicopter left John Wayne Airport in Orange County at just after 9 a.m. Sunday on an overcast day. There, further south from the crash site, the visibility was four miles, well within visual flight conditions. But as they headed north, they encountered a lowering cloud deck and visibility down to two and a half miles. When he reached Burbank, still well short of his destination, the pilot asked for a special visual flight rules clearance that would allow him to fly at visibility less than what is normally required for visual flight, so long as the aircraft remained clear of clouds, through the controlled airspace around Burbank and Van Nuys.

    Once he cleared Van Nuys and turned south and west toward Calabasas, the pilot reported that visibility was sufficient to meet the legal requirements for visual flight — but as he went on, the weather appears to have worsened.

    This is not equipment and training that is normally necessary in this area if even the cops don't do it. And it obviously isn't just a matter of having the equipment alone, there are insurance costs that are much higher for some reason I don't understand.

    It was an fluke of an atypical weather incident I.E. an accident. Act of god. However you put it.

    Yes, there are many more expensive things one can do that most do not do to keep safe in all kinds of travel. But they are not required because it would make leaving the house so expensive that only the very wealthy could afford it.

    The strange thing with this one,. though, is that there are higher insurance costs to have this feature, not lower! So the risk must be very very low. Or insurers would be giving a discount for having it, not charging more to employ it.


    P.S. I am thinking of all the little kids I see wearing helmets while on their plastic tricycles these days. Maybe they should learn to wear the helmets in the house, too, in case they fall and hit their head on the furniture like so many do?


    Just buy different furniture untile they get past the terrible twos and troublesome threes.


     no success at winning a lawsuit

     

     

    902.Duty of Common Carrier Common carriers must carry passengers [or property] safely. Common carriers must use the highest care and the vigilance of a very cautious person. They must do all that human care, vigilance, and foresight reasonably can do under the circumstances to avoid harm to passengers[or property].While a common carrier does not guarantee the safety of its passengers[or property that it transports], it must use reasonable skill to provide everything necessary for safe transportation, in view of the transportation used and the practical operation of the business


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