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Helicopter Sightseeing Tours

"Attorney Gary Robb is by far the most successful helicopter crash trial lawyer in the country"
       Forbes Magazine
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Author of THE authoritative text

Our law firm has handled some of the most serious crashes of helicopter sightseeing tours in the country.

There has been a disturbingly high rate of fatal helicopter crashes involving sightseeing tours. Between 2000-10, the NTSB recorded more than 140 sightseeing flight accidents nationally, 19 of which resulted in 86 fatalities. Helicopter flights cause more than half of the fatal crashes, and 24 of these fatalities occurred in Hawaii alone.

Intense lobbying by the helicopter aerial tour industry, including threats of operator bankruptcy, has resulted in an almost hands-off regulatory role from the FAA. For example, in response to complaints from Hawaiian helicopter air tour operators that present flight restrictions made their tours less appealing to tourists resulting in decreased industry revenue, the FAA issued exemptions permitting helicopter tour pilots to fly lower and lower. The FAA granted exemptions to several helicopter tour operators to fly as low as 1,000 feet and some as low as 500 feet.

Given the rash of fatal helicopter crashes in Hawaii these exemptions are not only unadvisable but they are irresponsible. Low altitude flight poses additional risks including increased crowding of aircraft at certain altitudes especially in low visibility conditions when fixed-wing aircraft may be flying at low altitude to get below the clouds. These exemptions are ill-advised and should be cancelled thereby reverting to the general limitation on helicopter flights to 2,000 feet above the surface for mountainous terrain except for takeoff and landing.

While various helicopter tour companies adhere to a high standard of operation, others simply adhere to FAA minimum requirements. Those operators with operating procedures higher than the FAA minimum standards will often display certificates so indicating.

Author of THE authoritative text

The primary causes of crashes within the helicopter tour industry are as follows:

  • Inadequate management or operator supervision
  • Inadequate maintenance practices
  • Inadequate risk assessment of weather or environmental conditions
  • Compromising pilot workload by imposing tour guide responsibilities
  • Incentives to fly too close to fixed obstacles
  • Operating in crowded airspace

Virtually all of the crashes within the helicopter tour industry have been as a result of one of the foregoing risk factors, other than where the helicopter suffered an in-flight failure of a safety critical control or system. Such was the case for the 1999 helicopter crash in Herbert Glacier in Alaska resulting in the death of seven people. The helicopter impacted the glacier at a 90 degrees nose down position at 135 KTS. Later examination of the wreckage revealed that the helicopter had suffered a failure of the pitch servo which drove the helicopter into a rapid descent. The pitch attitude servo had a manufacturing plug come out of place which jammed the selector valve in the full nose down position. The aircraft went from a level attitude to 90 degrees nose down in 200 feet of altitude at 135 KTS.

Helicopter tour operators should be required to adhere to higher maintenance standards than those current FAA minimal requirements. For those missions where the aircraft are used for common carrier purposes, the mechanics should have top-flight training and be highly experienced with a minimum of five (5) years of primary maintenance of rotorcraft. Waivers of any extended use or past regularly scheduled or annual inspections should be the exception rather than the rule. Any helicopter which is not fully in compliance with all regularly scheduled maintenance and component part replacement should be considered non-airworthy and grounded until such time as any maintenance or component part discrepancies are rectified.

Author of THE authoritative text

Pilots hired to operate tour helicopters should have a minimum of 500 hours of flight experience exclusively in a helicopter with a significant amount in the model or type utilized in the touring operations. Management should insure that all active pilots demonstrate sound judgment and decision-making capabilities that includes verification that pilots are following the designated routes and are complying with all designated reporting points on a common frequency.

Revenue considerations often add pressure to the helicopter operator to depart in marginal weather. Tourists already have bought tickets and will demand a refund if the flight does not depart as scheduled. Both the FAA and NTSB have recognized the need for independent risk-assessment of weather and environmental conditions. In connection with that assessment, there must be no adverse consequences to the pilot or risk assessment manager for the cancellation or re-scheduling of flights due to weather or other environmental conditions such as volcanic ash, military aircraft exercises or major glacier break-up. The pilot has ultimate responsibility whether to launch the flight and to conduct or continue to conduct the flight in view of any adverse weather conditions.

Given the workload demands faced by helicopter pilots, it is unreasonable to impose the additional duties of tour guide upon them. Pilots should be able to concentrate only on providing a safe flight. In too many instances a scenic tour helicopter pilot is asked to devote much of his attention to providing the passengers with continuous narration of the tour area as well as answering questions. This is a serious distraction. Operators do not want to carry a separate tour guide because this would deprive them of revenue from that attractive front left seat. In lieu of a separate tour guide, recorded commentary would serve much the same purpose by relieving the pilot of these additional duties without a significant reduction of ride attractiveness.

Author of THE authoritative text

We wrote the book on helicopter crashes.

Helicopter Crash Litigation by Gary C. Robb was first published in 2010. The Second Edition of this acclaimed book has just been published in 2015.

"This book is an essential volume...by accomplished trial lawyer Gary Robb, who has used these same techniques in a brilliant career..."
       International Press Publications
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Our law firm has obtained the two (2) highest jury verdicts ever in helicopter crash trials:

$350 million Our law firm obtained the two (2) highest jury verdicts ever in helicopter crash trials: A $350 million verdict for a pilot killed in a life flight helicopter crash, and a separate $70 million verdict for a passenger killed in that same helicopter crash. This crash involved a Turbomeca helicopter engine which failed in flight due to a defect in the nozzle guide vane.


Our law firm has obtained the largest settlement in U.S. history for a single injury in a helicopter crash:

$38 million A $38 million settlement for a young woman severely injured in a touring helicopter crash at the Grand Canyon which is the highest settlement in U.S. history for a single helicopter crash injury. Defendants in the case included Papillon, Eurocopter and Turbomeca.


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Personal Injury Lawyers - Kansas City, Missouri

Personal injury is an area of law that pertains to the injury of an individual. Both physical and emotional injuries fall into this branch of tort law. A personal injury lawyer is generally involved in cases where an injury has occurred due to the negligence of another party.

Examples of cases that a personal injury lawyer in Kansas City, Missouri can assist with include workplace accidents, falling or other accidents in the home, premises liability, defective and hazardous product cases, and dental and medical malpractice cases. If negligence on behalf of another party can be proved in court, compensation may be awarded.

Personal injury attorneys can also assist with industrial disease cases that may include respiratory diseases or a decline in health due to hazardous occupational conditions. These and other medical cases are often very complex, and it is advised that all aspects of the claim be handled by an experienced attorney.

Wrongful Death Lawyers - Kansas City, Missouri

Wrongful death falls under the common law jurisdictions wherein a person may be held liable for a death. It is important to note that wrongful death is the only course of legal action in which a company, rather than an individual, is at fault for a death.

In Kansas City, Missouri, cases involving wrongful death accidents require a preponderance of evidence as the standard of proof. Generally, the suit is filed by close relatives.

This web site is designed for general information only. The information presented at this site should not be construed to be formal legal advice nor the formation of a lawyer/client relationship. Past results afford no guarantee of future results. Every case is different and must be judged on its own merits.

Robb & Robb LLC One Kansas City Place, Suite 3900 - 1200 Main Street , Kansas City , Missouri 64105

Telephone: 816-474-8080 Facsimile: 816-474-8081 Toll Free: 1-800-474-1339