LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – Following last month’s tragic helicopter crash which killed Lakers star Kobe Bryant and eight others, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein is the latest to demand that all choppers be equipped with terrain warning systems.

In a letter to Federal Aviation Administration chief Steve Dickinson Tuesday, Feinstein urged the agency to require all helicopters which carry six or more people have terrain awareness and warning systems (TAWS), something which was not present on Kobe’s helicopter when it crashed in Calabasas on Jan. 26.

The NTSB investigates the wreckage of the helicopter crash which killed Lakers star Kobe Bryant and eight others on Jan. 26, 2020, in Calabasas. (NTSB)

In her letter, Feinstein noted that back in 2006, the National Transportation Safety Board had recommended that the FAA issue such a requirement.

“The NTSB has labeled the status of this recommendation ‘unacceptable’ due to FAA’s inaction,” Feinstein wrote.

Last week, U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) announced he is introducing the Kobe Bryant and Gianna Bryant Helicopter Safety Act, which would direct the FAA and NTSB to place TAWS systems in all helicopters.

The systems would cost between $25,000 and $40,000 per helicopter, Sherman estimates.

At around 9:45 a.m. on Jan. 26, a Sikorsky S-76 helicopter carrying Kobe, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, two other teen girls, four parents and the pilot crashed in Calabasas amid foggy conditions.

The helicopter had departed from John Wayne Airport in Orange County and was bound for Camarillo, with the passengers on board heading to Kobe’s Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, where he was set to coach Gianna in a tournament game.

Following the crash, an NTSB official criticized the FAA for not requiring either black boxes or TAWS systems on helicopters. NTSB investigator Jennifer Homendy also noted that the FAA had failed to implement a pair of recommendations made by the NTSB in response to past helicopter crashes. Those included requiring that helicopters include cockpit voice recorders and data recorders – informally known as black boxes.

There was no black box on Kobe’s helicopter. It’s unclear if Sherman’s bill would also require all choppers to carry black boxes.

On an episode of the “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” following the crash, the comedian also discussed the black box issue. In September of 1974, a 10-year-old Colbert lost his father and two brothers in a plane crash in North Carolina.

“I think it’s crazy that helicopters don’t have black box recorders,” Colbert said…”When a helicopter goes down we don’t know how to improve the helicopter. We don’t know how to improve the flying of the pilots so this won’t happen again in the future.”

Under FAA regulations, almost all planes are required to have black boxes, but not helicopters.

“In order to ensure such a tragedy never happens again, I ask that the FAA commence a rulemaking process to require all commercial helicopters operating in the U.S. to have terrain awareness and warning systems,” Feinstein wrote in her letter. “While I understand these systems can cost $35,000 per helicopter, I believe reducing the risk to passengers and those on the ground is more than worth this cost.

(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)

Comments (2)
  1. Jack Kenton says:

    Most helicopter operations are done in visual conditions. The FAA has given helicopters a special status in being able to fly in lesser visual conditions. When one flies into clouds, what the copter community calls “inadvertent IFR”, the pilot has have a fall-back plan on what to do. Some 20 years ago, when I flew Army helicopters, we had plans for this. If it happened, either singly, or as a group, we would simply “pull pitch” and climb. Hopefully we would break out on top of the clouds. This would be accompanied to a radio call on the ATC emergency frequency where we would declare an in-flight emergency. The idea was to survive and talk about it later.
    Terrain-avoidance equipment is not the answer. Pilot planning is the answer. And when that fails, if the pilot cannot see the ground, he needs to declare an emergency and climb.

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