The FAA has established a procedure for commercial helicopter operators to secure permission to resume doors-off flights.
The FAA issued an emergency order in March prohibiting helicopter flights for hire using supplemental passenger restraint systems that cannot be quickly and easily released in an emergency. The order nearly coincided with publication of preliminary findings by NTSB staff investigating a March 11 helicopter crash in New York City’s East River. An airbus Helicopters AS350B2 was being flown with the doors removed to facilitate photography by passengers. The helicopter pilot was forced to autorotate into the river after experiencing a power loss, and all five passengers drowned after the helicopter rolled over and submerged. The pilot, who was using standard rather than supplemental restraints, was the sole survivor.
The FAA issued new guidance on April 10, establishing a procedure through which a commercial operator can secure a letter of authorization to use restraints that are not otherwise approved under a supplemental type certificate, or approved as a major alteration using FAA Form 337. Operators may now submit FAA Form 7711-2 to apply for a letter of authorization to use a restraint system that conforms to the performance characteristics stipulated by the agency, including that the restraint system must not require the use of a knife, or any other tool, or the assistance of another person in order to remove it in an emergency. Approvable restraints must also be simple enough to use that no passenger training be required beyond what would be provided in a preflight briefing.
In addition to the form, the FAA also requires applicants to submit a link to a short video, posted to YouTube (the agency recommends that it be unlisted), demonstrating the release of the supplemental passenger restraint system for which approval is sought. The completed form can be emailed to the Air Transportation Division (AFS-200) at SPRS@faa.gov. Anyone unable to submit electronically should contact AFS-200 at 202-267-8166.