Helicopter Tours: Safe or Scary?

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Helicopter tour companies thrive in the summertime when vacationers from all over crave the view from above after having been on the road for countless hours. With tourist attractions like Mt. Rushmore, the Grand Canyon, and volcanoes and waterfalls, it’s no wonder that helicopter tour companies are sought after by tourists to provide a birds-eye view for all passengers. Yet, despite their claims that you’ll see something you wouldn’t normally encounter, we hear of accidents involving these helicopter tour companies all the time.

Several helicopter tour companies employ students on summer break and those who seek employment do so to renew or add to flight hours for pilot credentials. Shockingly, some of the pilots are as young as 20 years old. In one instance, the young pilot hovered over a volcanic crater so that the passengers could see right into the hole–the pilot even asked if the passengers could “feel the heat” from the volcano. Volcano helicopter tours themselves are among the most dangerous. In Kauai particularly, five passengers were killed in separate accidents within a period of a few days in 2007. Helicopter crashes can result from lack of training on the part of the pilot, misjudgment of distance between the copter and the sight, someone walking in the way of a propeller, the craft crashing into a mountainside, the pilot losing control and crashing into the ocean, the crew allowing an unstable load, and others conditions like maintenance issues, poor weather, and lack of credentials of the company providing the tours.

While pilots and tour companies will argue that helicopter travel is one of the safest modes of travel, there is still speculation as to the frequency of these accidents and why they occur. Unfortunately, neither the FAA nor the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) can provide solid statistics for helicopter tours specifically, as it can be difficult to define what a helicopter tour is and what it involves. After the several accidents in Kauai, the FAA did step in to provide emergency rules and guidelines for helicopter tour companies. In New York, politicians also tried to ban helicopter tours after a 2011 accident.

Helicopter tours are popular because they can maneuver the craft into small spaces and take the lighter craft over and near national landmarks that larger planes can’t access. Before you embark on a helicopter tour, be sure to check the history of the company and determine whether there have been any incidents or accidents. Find out how they happened and whether the incident was isolated or not. If you are injured in a helicopter crash involving a tour company, there may be some difficulty in determining exact regulations and guidelines. Enlisting the support of a law firm who specializes in aviation accidents will assist you in this process.

Travel on vacation comes in all forms, and the view from above affords us a spectacular opportunity to see parts of our country in different ways. Before you board the flight, do some research for your own benefit, and that of future passengers.