Whistleblowers: FAA refused to inspect Safari helicopters

  • U.S. Rep. Ed Case

LIHU‘E — A Federal Aviation Administration employee says his managers prevented him from conducting an investigation of Safari Aviation, the charter helicopter company whose sightseeing tour ended in a fatal crash near Koke‘e that claimed seven lives on Dec. 26.

FAA inspector Joseph Monfort contacted the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation in December, alleging that FAA leadership ignored repeated warnings about the safety of helicopter operations in Hawai‘i, according to a report Friday.

Monfort, a retired U.S. Army helicopter pilot and principal operations inspector in Hawai‘i since 2009, said his requests to inspect Safari Aviation in September and November were denied by FAA managers, “making it next to impossible” for him to perform adequate oversight.

Monfort alleged that he was suspended twice because of his repeated appeals to senior management in the Hawai‘i office to have his direct manager’s decisions overturned.

According to the Senate committee’s report, Monfort initiated a review of Safari’s training program due to “deficiencies” he noted during a check ride with the same pilot involved in the December crash, a revelation U.S. Rep. Ed Case (D-urban Oahu) described as “shocking” during an interview Friday, calling Monfort’s allegations about Safari helicopters “very disturbing.”

Case spoke with The Garden Island yesterday afternoon following a press conference to address the whistleblower’s complaints. He said the numerous administration employees who have come forward in recent months seem to indicate “a much broader problem” within the FAA.

According to Case, the combined allegations “add up to the same basic question, which is: ‘Is the FAA focused on public safety or on protecting the industry?’”

Monfort also reported allegations of lax oversight at the administration’s Hawai‘i office, and told the committee’s investigative staff that some managers “have an inappropriately close relationship” with Novictor Aviation, a helicopter tour operator involved in three Hawai‘i crashes in the last two years.

Case said inappropriate relationships like those alleged by Monfort sometimes happen when federal regulators “become too cozy” with members of the industry they are charged with overseeing.

The Senate committee said in its report Friday that an investigation and review of FAA documents “lends credibility to Mr. Monfort’s disclosures and appears to corroborate many of his allegations,” and that the review, while still incomplete, “raises significant concerns about the efficacy of FAA oversight in Hawai‘i.”

The committee’s report included information supplied by multiple FAA whistleblowers. One employee alleged the administration’s managers “too frequently overrode the recommendations of inspectors, hampering the ability of inspectors to conduct effective oversight,” and accused at least one manager of issuing improper check-ride certifications.

In a statement Friday, FAA spokesperson Ian Gregor said the administration “takes allegations of wrongdoing very seriously,” has been conducting its own investigation of the matter, and “is already taking steps to address substantiated concerns.”

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Caleb Loehrer, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0441 or cloehrer@thegardenisland.com.

5 Comments
  1. truth be known February 1, 2020 11:27 am Reply

    Caleb, thanks for your article. Hopefully steps are being taken to insure that administrative managers don’t impede the efforts of the inspectors to do their job. If there is malfeasance involved, the managers should be held responsible and dismissed. People’s lives depend on it. A follow up story of the actual “steps taken” would be illuminating.


  2. Eric Noland February 1, 2020 1:29 pm Reply

    The helicopter tour industry in the State is a dangerous environmental disaster and a nuisance to residents. It is out of control. The cost / benefit of these tours is extremely negative for the local population. Bird life is scarce where these extremely noisy and polluting machines operate and it is now difficult to enjoy our Sate Parks and Forests without the impression of being in a war zone. All this to profit of a few out of State businesses with subsidiaries here and for the enjoyment of rich, unconscious visitors who feel entitled to view the interior of the island sitting on their ass. By the way must of us have never seen it! Nor do we need to see it if we can’t make our way there in a conscious way, respectful of others.


  3. Vicky February 1, 2020 1:58 pm Reply

    The FAA makes up their decisions anyway, with FAA they do what they want. Look at Kobe Bryant?? The FAA should have Said NO not to fly, and look 9 people died. You can’t stop life from happening, not to sound negative but if it’s your time you can’t stop life. How come no one is blaming FAA for Kobe’s death?? People always like to pick and choose who to blame! It’s No ones fault
    It’s called LIFE


  4. Debra Kekaualua February 1, 2020 3:02 pm Reply

    From 1979 to 2001 my business model was “live voice 24-7-365” sole proprietary owner operator to Central Answering Service. Specializing in Medical Professionals, groups and a wide range of unexpected clientele, “Central” began specializing as an emergency call center outside but sometimes in concert with KPD dispatch. Then, no cell phones, only HawTel pagers and my business purchased a motorola, islandwide voice paging system for the contracted doctors, medical professionals on-call.

    I was contacted by both FAA and a few companies who were being inundated with complaints, especially Kauai veterans. With helicopter company enmasse arrival gone, was the quiet solitude of nature, akua, and mana. These machines were out of control, invasive, and basically called all their movements, even being paid to do special tours that would include flight space maneuvers in off limits areas, like all of the military facilities that like helicopters, has transformed garden, turned Garbage.

    The Helicopter Hotline was born. It was so huge, i had to hire operator helpers with the amount of radio ads, but mostly once residents knew they had a means to expose, all the way down to actual helicopter numbers being read or the colors pinpointed what company was out from any FAA path directives that were being outlined and for which most pilots were mandated to stick to the designated paths!

    At this time, a retired civilian, i see they still pretty much use 2-4 Paths. One still flies south Haupu then NW, into the kokee region Waialeale, and back to airport. Recent tour we experienced took us behind Kalepa, Kokee, Waialeale, Wainiha river valley, (unsure but sort of like a rollercoaster following twists and bends of the river below) mauka Napali and always out of site of all the golfball NASA and military structures even google earth has chaff.

    A local biologist, diver, and amazing informationist about the undersea creatures as well as under sea humans. Terry Lilley has a complete history and documentary as well as shocking pictures of above and under the sea activities of his witness and when FB allows him to share!

    To end my tale, the messages, the protocol, the outlines made via interaction FAA intervention as complete as i could ascertain as a Cessna 150 pilot trainee. My instructor Jeff Nitta became a Hawaiian Air Flight Captain (also a was a full-time fireman while teaching flight school), the civil air patrol, Mr Rapozo and many others closer to FAA, than i was through a telephone headset. Those that last spoke to or heard from the pilot, maybe Lihue airport tower. The boots on the ground are going to determine the cause and i already made my conclusions. Im with the whistleblower!


  5. MisterM February 1, 2020 3:54 pm Reply

    Heads need to roll inside the FAA. Way too many accidents.


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