Introduction: Crashes of sightseeing helicopter flights in Hawaii and the resulting tourist deaths prompted the FAA to issue regulations in 1994 specific to air tours in Hawaii. Research was undertaken to examine the effect of the 1994 Rule and to describe the circumstances of such crashes.
Method: From National Transportation Safety Board data, 59 crashes of helicopter air tour flights in Hawaii during 1981-2008 were identified; crash investigation reports were read and coded. Crashes in 1995-2008 were compared with those in 1981-1994.
Results: The 1994 Rule was followed by a 47% decrease in the crash rate, from 3.4 to 1.8/100,000 flight hours. The number of crashes into the ocean decreased from eight before the Rule to one afterwards. VFR-IMC crashes increased from 5 to 32% of crashes. There were 46 tourists and 9 pilots who died in 16 fatal crashes. Aircraft malfunctions, primarily due to poor maintenance, precipitated 34 (58%) of the crashes and persisted throughout the 28-yr period. Pilot errors were apparent in 23 crashes (39%). Flight from visual to instrument conditions occurred in two cases before the Rule and seven cases after. Terrain unsuitable for landing was cited in 37 crashes (63%).
Conclusion: Decreases occurred in the overall number and rate of crashes and in ocean crash landings. The increase in VFR-IMC crashes may be related to the requirement that tour helicopters fly at least 1500 ft. above terrain. Attention is still needed to maintenance, pilot training, and restricting flights to operating areas and conditions that enable safe emergency landings.