Scrutiny Over Helicopter Safety In Hawaii

HONOLULU (KHNL) - As the National Transportation Safety Board continues its investigation, the question now surrounds helicopter safety in our islands.

By and large, helicopter tours are safe. On the average, someone dies from a helicopter crashes in one out of about 800,000 flights. But experts say these recent crashes serve as an opportunity for the industry to improve its standards even more.

Two fatal Hawaii helicopter crashes in less than a week. Five dead, and months of work ahead for investigators. Despite these recent accidents, helicopter safety in Hawaii has improved.

"In general, I would say the accidents themselves have indeed gone down from an industry perspective," said Robert Butler, executive director of Tour Operators Program of Safety, an independent helicopter safety organization.

In 1994, the Federal Aviation Administration implemented new air tour regulations for Hawaii. Twelve years since then, fatal crashes dropped by 30 percent compared to the previous dozen years. But recently, the number of Hawaii's fatal helicopter crashes has gone up.

From 1995 to 2001, there were three fatal accidents, killing nine. But from 2002 to 2007, that number jumped to six fatal accidents, and 17 people killed, about double the previous six years.

"And I know out of these accidents, there's going to be meetings between the operators and the FAA to try to find new ways to implement strategies and policies to help to create even a safer environment than there is today," said Butler.

An independent organization of helicopter tour operators does just that, taking the FAA's standards for general aviation and professional air carriers a step further.

"In reference to the Tour Operators Program of Safety, our standards are set higher than both sets of standards," said Butler.

With the recent crashes still fresh in their minds, helicopter tour operators hope to find new ways to improve safety.

The advice from experts: do your homework, and research the company to find out their safety and maintenance records before you make a helicopter reservation.