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July 19, 2019

Schumer calls for tighter helicopter regulations following tragic Midtown crash

June 17, 2019
in this file photo, Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of N.Y., speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 4, 2019. (Susan Walsh/AP)

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) wants all helicopters to be equipped with so-called black boxes that record and store flight data and pilot communications.

“If we are going to have helicopters in the air, even highly regulated in terms of when and where they can fly, they should still have black boxes, if, God forbid, a crash occurs,” Schumer said on Sunday, days after a deadly crash in Midtown Manhattan.. “We do this for commercial planes, so it makes all the sense in the world for choppers, too.”

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A veteran helicopter pilot died when he crash-landed an Agusta A109E aircraft last Monday atop the 54-story AXA Equitable Center on Seventh Ave. at W. 51st St. minutes after taking off in heavy rain and dense clouds.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board, large commercial aircraft and some smaller commercial, corporate, and private aircraft are required by the Federal Aviation Administration to be equipped with two “black boxes” that record information about a flight. Both are used to help reconstruct events when there is an accident.

Helicopters are not required to house that technology, and without it the NTSB has no way of knowing exactly what went wrong during last week’s fatal flight. The NTSB has for years urged the FAA to require helicopters to be equipped with the devices.

Schumer called on the FAA to consider changing its regulations to require that all helicopters carry flight data and cockpit voice recorders.

A helicopter flown by Timothy McCormack crash landed on the roof of a Midtown Manhattan building on Monday, June 10, 2019.
A helicopter flown by Timothy McCormack crash landed on the roof of a Midtown Manhattan building on Monday, June 10, 2019. (FDNY)

FAA officials have cited the high cost of installation and questioned the usefulness of the devices in helping to save lives.

The flight data recorder monitors instrumentation and the cockpit voice recorder stores radio transmissions and sounds in the cockpit. Investigators use the data to create animations of plane crashes. Most of these devices are matched with an underwater locator beacon that gives off a “ping” to help find submerged craft.

Schumer said NTSB officials told him that it would be helpful for investigators looking into last week’s accident to know what pilot Tim McCormack experienced before he crashed. The chopper was obliterated, but data recorders are engineered to withstand accidents.

FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen told The News that the agency is supporting the NTSB’s investigation of the crash, but said there are no plans to require helicopters to have black boxes. “It would be premature to consider any actions pending the outcome of the investigation,” Bergen said.

Schumer said on Sunday that the FAA said it would consider his request, adding that it was especially imperative as more companies look to launch private helicopter services in New York City.

The ride-hailing company Uber is scheduled to launch “Uber Copter” next month, offering a limited number of daily eight-minute helicopter rides between lower Manhattan and JFK Airport for $200. Uber is partnering with a company named Heliflite for the service.

An Uber spokesman said Heliflite has high safety standards and equips its choppers with cockpit voice recorders.

“The bottom line is the NTSB is the premiere safety agency in the country and if they think black boxes should be in helicopters, the FAA should just do it,” Schumer said.

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