Letters for Sunday — April 05, 2006

• Helicopter industry is not God’s gift to Kaua’I

• The Sex Police

• Kaua’i close to paradise

Helicopter industry is not God’s gift to Kaua’i

What is “distressing” to me is to hear yet another helitour industry person defend the undefendable. Nowhere in his letter does Mr. Christensen actually say that all Jack Harter flights do obey all laws and air regulations, which exist to promote safety.

Special Federal Aviation Regulation No. 71 (SFAR 71) was enacted in 1994 to promote safety after 24 fatalities in Hawaii within 3 years (July 1991-July 1994). It forbids sight-seeing flights in Hawaii from flying less than 1500 feet above the ground. The FAA grants deviations on a company by company basis, allowing flights down to 500 feet in designated scenic areas and 200 feet over knife-edge ridges. The 1500-foot limit still applies to places where people are expected to be, such as trails, campgrounds, and roads. Yet, if you hike in Kaua’i’s uplands, you can see helicopters break this law every day. I have personally witnessed a Jack Harter helicopter buzz the state trail on Kohua Ridge in Waimea canyon at less than 200 feet from me, close enough for me to see the occupants’ faces.

SFAR 71 has been legally challenged by the helicopter industry, so it is rather a false badge of safety for Mr Christensen to stand behind it. But, the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the rule twice, first in a 1995 suit by the Hawaii Helicopter Operators Ass’n and again in a 2002 suit by Safari Helicopter Tours. All this information is available on the first page of results when you search for “SFAR 71” on Google.

Between booking more customers on bad weather days and joyriding, it seems like business reasons override passenger safety. Experienced pilots must know when they encounter conditions that might require them to break the 500-foot rule, yet they continue to fly. For two years after a Jack Harter helicopter crash killed 5 people in 2003, their website continued to read: “The FAA has granted us a deviation from SFAR 71 based on our safety record and compliance with existing regulations. Jack Harter Helicopters is permitted to fly down to 500 feet above the ground.” I don’t know how any company with a fatal crash can keep its 500-foot rule deviation—and brag about it.

It is interesting to note that the other safety measure of SFAR 71 is to require amphibious helicopters (with floats) or passengers wearing flotation devices at all times, not just having them under the seats.

This rule applies to any flight that goes beyond the shore, as many do to avoid clouds or rain, or illicitly as part of the tour. Respecting this regulation might have saved more lives in the HeliUSA crash last September.

The airtour industry may contribute to the local economy, but with high capital costs, some mainland owners, and surprisingly low pilot and maintenance crew wages, I’d be interested in seeing the real numbers. As for the impact of weather on business, welcome to Kaua’i. I imagine operators weren’t complaining when they could book extra flights over Wai’ale’ale during the unseasonably dry months of December and January.

Finally, having passenger helicopters on Kaua’i does mean certain services are more readily available, but air taxi service usually costs in the hundreds of dollars per hour.

I don’t doubt that Jack Harter and others have provided a few charitable flights for good causes, and I commend the owners for those.

However, Mr Christensen implies that in exchange, helicopter companies can continue to flaunt safety and the law. His response demonstrates the arrogance of an industry that needs more regulations and stricter oversight. The industry’s lack of safety has resulted in 13 fatalities on Kaua’i alone in less than 3 years. Because most companies seem to be abusing their 500-foot deviation and continue to be unsafe, I suggest that the 1500-foot limits be enforced again, no deviations allowed.

I urge hikers and hunters who have witnessed a tour helicopter flying under 500 feet or within 1500 feet of a trail to note the time, location, and tail number or operator, and report it to the FAA district office in Honolulu at 808-837-8300.

  • Andy Kass

The Sex Police

Today’s (April 5) Garden Island newspaper carried the headline, “Tracking sex offenders a daily task.” The article told how “keeping track of sex offenders keeps the staff members at the Hawaii Criminal Justice Data Center in Honolulu busy.”

The information collected is publicly available on the Internet. I wonder if the Hawaii Criminal Justice Center is kept equally busy in tracking drug dealers, murderers, arsonists, burglars and those who have assaulted people with knives and guns? All of these are felony crimes, just like rape.

I can understand how someone would want to know if a rapist had just moved in next door. But wouldn’t that person also want to know if a convicted murderer had moved in next door? How about a convicted drug dealer? How about someone who had nearly killed someone with an axe?

I’m not sure I understand what we are doing here. There are many types of sex crimes, but not all are felonies. So this means that many of those being tracked and publicized have committed misdemeanors. Depending on their crime, some sex offenders will be on the register for 10 years, others for 20 years, some for 20 years. But in our criminal justice system only sex offenders are treated this way. Are we sa ying that someone who has gone to prison for a sex crime will still be dangerous for many, many more years after they are released but that a murderer who has served his time is not? Are we saying that the drug user/dealer who has been in and out of jail 20 times has been rehabilitated but not the person who has been treated for sex crimes? Are we saying that we have more to fear from people convicted of sex crimes than any other type of crime? Or is this just The Scarlet Letter all over again?

I am not interested in defending sex offenders; indeed there are some sex offenses that are truly horrific. We all know that. However, I am concerned about an erosion of a basic American principle called “Equal Justice Under the Law.” When a group of people, no matter how much we may disapprove of or even despise their behavior, lose their American right to equal justice under the law, it won’t be long before we all lose it.

  • Richard McSheehy

Kaua’i close to paradise

I spent the last three months on Kaua’i. I just want to say this. I don’t know if there is in the universe paradise but if there is one Kaua’i is just around the corner.

  • Edward Ambrose
    Ottawa, Canada

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