Donald Trump escaped death in helicopter crash: FAA ok with 50 unnecessary fatalities?

FAA budget devoted to delaying safety standards for urgent helicopter safety issues.

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President Trump should be advised promptly that despite an alarming report about U.S. helicopter safety issues, the industry is proposing another delay in helicopter safety standards for crashworthiness. This is expected to be rubber-stamped by FAA bureaucrats soon.

The President most likely did not forget how he felt when he was interviewed by Press Atlantic City in 1989 and told the reporter: “I’m sick, just sick; it’s unbelievable,” his voice cracking with emotion during an interview. Donald Trump narrowly escaped death in 1989 when he missed a helicopter flight with his top three casino executives. Trump’s helicopter crashed in New Jersey killing all on board. Stephen F. Hyde, 43, who bore responsibility for Trump’s three Atlantic City casino properties; Taj Mahal top executive Mark G. Etess, 38; and Jonathan Benanav, 33, executive vice president of Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino, was killed along with the craft’s two pilots.

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As a frequent helicopter traveler, President Trump knows this issue well as he has had several close calls. In June 2017 a Trump organization helicopter had another fortunately non-fatal accident. Military helicopters have had so many fatal accidents that their death toll rivals those killed in combat.

Nearly three years ago, the FAA office dealing with helicopter safety issued an alarming report noting that deaths from helicopter crashes were not declining and the crashworthy standards issued by the FAA were only in effect in about 16% of the fleet after over 20 years. This was due to the loophole created by the FAA which failed to require compliance by any existing aircraft or any new aircraft unless it involved a new design.

These crash standards prevent fuel tank fires and reduce impact trauma from land crashes and deaths from drowning in water crashes. FlyersRights.org estimates the lack of air crash standard compliance causes over 50 unnecessary deaths annually worldwide.

In addition to unnecessary deaths, injuries can be horrific. In a recent crash, a survivor was burned over 90% of his body, resulting in a jury award of $100 million against the operator.

Paul Hudson, President of FlyersRights.org told eTN:  I have reviewed video clips of 15 recent helicopter crashes on Youtube. From 2009-2017, there were 206 fatal accidents, totaling 323 US deaths mostly from fires. Just in the past year, the East River crash killed all six young sight-seeing passengers as the aircraft tipped over and quickly sank, drowning all passengers who were strapped in with no way to escape except by finding a hidden knife and cutting themselves free (only the pilot survived). In another recent crash, the owner of a major UK soccer team was killed in a fuel tank explosion on impact leaving the stadium after a game. Overall, helicopter crashes occur with 100 times the frequency of commercial fixed-wing aircraft.”

Yesterday on December 13, 2018, Hudson wrote to Daniel Elwell, Acting Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in Washington DC, and President Trump along with Elaine Chao, Secretary of Transportation, and others who were copied in this letter.

The letter said:

I write to strongly urge the FAA to reject the recommendations that helicopter crashworthy standards promulgated over 20 years ago, be again delayed yet again for 3-5 years to indefinitely. Fuel tank fires and explosions are causing horrific injuries and deaths in numerous otherwise survivable accidents. They can be nearly entirely prevented with fuel tank bladders. Yet the industry-dominated ARAC fails to recommend any retrofitting of the existing 9,000+ fleet and only limited requirements for newly-manufactured helicopters.

These crash standards prevent fuel tank fires and reduce impact trauma from land crashes and deaths from drowning in water crashes. FlyersRights.org estimates the lack of air crash standard compliance causes over 50 unnecessary deaths annually worldwide.

The calculated benefit of retrofitting is $1 billion over 10 years, and the cost of retrofitting would be far less, yet the recommendation is against any real or timely mandate, estimating 3-5 years for partial compliance after final rule adopted, if ever.

Even for upper torso harnesses that have minimal cost, the recommendation is not to mandate anything in less than 3-5 years.

Membership of the working group was not balanced or representative of relevant stakeholders.

While the 189-page report strangely omits a list of its members, it appears that the working group was dominated by helicopter industry reps and omitted any crash victims or their representatives, insurance carriers, safety device makers, and innovators.

Accordingly, the conclusion that it would be impractical to retrofit 75% of the fleet with fuel tank bladders as well as a dozen other fuel tank standards is highly suspect and without proper foundation or justification. Indeed, there are a number of companies like Aero Tec Labs that specialize in bladder fuel tanks and replacement for aircraft and marine applications. The cost of retrofit requirements has been calculated to be as low as $4,000 to as high as $334,000 per unit for over 1,000 aircraft. Yet there is no detail as to how these costs were calculated and who made the calculations. They appear to be meant to confuse and obscure the true cost of retrofitting rather than enlightening.

Hudson finished his letter to the FAA saying: In conclusion, you should with notice to President Trump and the public, issue an airworthiness directive AD requiring all helicopters to be retrofitted within one year with bladder fuel tanks and quick release shoulder harnesses, and to implement the other crashworthiness standards or show cause why they cannot reasonably comply within two years.

All new helicopters should be required to comply with crashworthiness standards. The cost can and should be borne in part the manufacturers who have benefitted by the lack of enforcement and cuts in the FAA budget devoted to delaying safety standards and granting waivers and exemptions to safety regulations.

Juergen Thomas Steinmetz has continuously worked in the travel and tourism industry since he was a teenager in Germany (1979), beginning as a travel agent up through today as a publisher of eTurboNews (eTN), one of the world’s most influential and most-read travel and tourism publications. He is also Chairman of ICTP. His experiences include working and collaborating with various national tourism offices and non-governmental organizations, as well as private and non-profit organizations, and in planning, implementing, and quality control of a range of travel and tourism-related activities and programs, including tourism policies and legislation. His major strengths include a vast knowledge of travel and tourism from the point of view of a successful private enterprise owner, superb networking skills, strong leadership, excellent communication skills, strong team player, attention to detail, dutiful respect for compliance in all regulated environments, and advisory skills in both political and non-political arenas with respect to tourism programs, policies, and legislation. He has a thorough knowledge of current industry practices and trends and is a computer and Internet junkie.