The FAA has issued an emergency order prohibiting the use in flights for hire of supplemental passenger restraint systems that cannot be released quickly in an emergency in doors-off flights. The ban follows the crash of a helicopter into New York City’s East River that took the lives of all five passengers.
The order that took effect March 22 prohibits passenger-carrying doors-off flight operations in the United States or using U.S.-registered aircraft, unless the passengers are secured by FAA-approved restraint systems at all times. The FAA said it based the order on initial investigative findings of the March 11 accident involving an Airbus Helicopters AS350B2 helicopter that lost power, entered an autorotation, and struck the river while operating with doors off.
According to the order, the harness systems aboard the accident aircraft “were provided by the operator to ensure passengers did not fall out of the helicopter while moving around. Along with the supplemental passenger restraint systems, the operator provided knives to be used to cut through the restraints if necessary and informed the passengers of the purpose of the knives.”
The order defines “supplemental passenger restraint system” as “any passenger restraint that is not installed on the aircraft pursuant to an FAA approval, including (but not limited to) restraints approved through a Type Certificate, Supplemental Type Certificate, or as an approved major alteration using FAA Form 337.”
The National Transportation Safety Board issued a preliminary report on the accident March 23.
The NTSB had pressed for emergency action after the crash, announcing in a March 19 news release that it had issued an urgent recommendation that the FAA “prohibit all open-door commercial passenger-carrying aircraft flights that use passenger harness systems, unless the harness system allows passengers to rapidly release the harness with minimal difficulty and without having to cut or forcefully remove the harness.”
The FAA also noted its intention to initiate a rulemaking process “that addresses operations using supplemental passenger restraint systems that have not been approved by the FAA.”