The FAA, following up on its social media postings last week, today released an emergency order banning open door/doors off flights for operations that do not provide FAA approved restraint systems that allow for quick escape in an emergency after the death of five amateur photographers in New York City March 11th, 2018.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) through the Helicopter Association International (HAI) released an emergency order in the wake of the tragic loss of the lives of five amateur photographers that became trapped by their harnesses after a Liberty Helicopters AS-350 operating a photography flight on behalf of FlyNYON suffered an in flight engine failure and was brought down into New York City’s East River successfully by pilot Richard Vance. The helicopter however capsized after what appeared to be a successful autorotation into the water when the right front emergency float did not inflate, causing the helicopter to list heavily to the right after impact with the water and quickly roll right and submerge trapping those still strapped into their seats via harnesses. The pilot, wearing a standard five point harness that required minimal effort to open was the sole survivor of the incident.
The FAA emergency order dated March 22, 2018 states that use of supplemental passenger restraint systems that cannot be released quickly in an emergency in doors off flight operations. The emergency order further states it prohibits passenger-carrying doors off flight operations unless the passengers are at all times properly secured using FAA approved restraints.
The full order goes on to define several of the ambiguous sections of the initial statement that at least until more work is completed investigating the accident on March 11th and a working group is engaged to provide potential solutions to the FAA to operate doors off flights in harnesses safely, the orders wording effectively ends the practice used by FlyNYON of doors off/open flights while connected to the helicopter via harness. The order stating in part “Effective immediately, the use of supplemental passenger restraint systems in doors off flight operations for compensation or hire is prohibited.”
The emergency order also states that to operate these flights in the future, each operators safety harness system must be evaluated directly and approved by the FAA’s Aircraft Certification Service, Policy and Innovation Division within the Rotorcraft Standards Branch, with applicants advised that the burden of providing clear and convincing evidence of a harnesses ease of escape rests with each operator, stating “The applicant bears the burden of clearly and convincingly demonstrating that the supplemental passenger restraint system can be quickly released by a passenger with minimal difficulty and without impeding egress from the aircraft in an emergency. In reviewing any such application, the FAA shall consider the design, manufacture, installation, and operation of the supplemental passenger restraint system.”
More information can be gathered from the FAA’s official documentation that can be downloaded here.