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Despite On-Going NTSB & DOT Investigations Into Deadly East River “Doors-Off” Chopper Crash FlyNYON Was Involved In, The Company Is Still Performing The Dangerous Flights Thanks To A Loophole Allowing For “Aerial Photography” –  A.K.A Instagram “Shoe Selfies”

Schumer & Menendez Want FAA Action To Address Safety While PETA & Humane Society Of U.S. Stand With Senators In Effort To Stop The Cruel Campaign Where Dogs All But Dangle Over NYC Buildings, Bridges & More 

Schumer: Strapping In Dogs For Dangerous Doors-Off Flights Over NY Is Totally Re-Pug-Nant        

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer revealed, today, that the chopper company currently under two federal investigations—FlyNYON—for their involvement in the March 2018 East River helicopter crash that killed five people is using a legal loophole to skirt stricter safety standards that are mandated for other helicopter companies that transport people in the metro-area. Schumer, also joined by U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the Humane Society of the United States, further revealed that FlyNYON, in an effort to bait more people to purchase those dangerous doors-off flights, is now flying dogs high above New York, offering thrill-seekers the chance to dangle their feet—and now their pet—above city buildings, bridges, waters and more. Schumer and Menendez demanded new action on FlyNYON in a letter they’ve sent to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as it concerns a legal loophole and made the case for the company to immediately cease the flying of dogs for thrill.   

“It is outrageous that despite the death of five innocent people in a dangerous doors-off chopper flight and two active federal investigations into lapsed safety that FlyNYON is still operating those same flights at desperate discounts. But now, it is a sheer jaw-drop to know that the same company is strapping in dogs for people to snap pictures of while the animals all but dangle high above New York skies, experiencing the sound of the rotors and who knows what other cruel things,” said U.S. Senator Charles Schumer. “Strapping in dogs for dangerous doors-off flights over New York is just totally repugnant; another disaster in waiting."

“These helicopter flights are not just a worry on the ground, but, after a series of deadly crashes, they’re a potential death trap in the sky,” said U.S. Senator Bob Menendez. “The FAA has an obligation to make sure tourist chopper flights are either operated safely or grounded.  The idea that passengers and their pets are being strapped in and dangled out of open doors hundreds of feet above ground without strong safeguards in place is astonishing, downright cruel for the animals, and a tragedy waiting to happen.”

The loophole

Schumer and Menendez explained that FlyNYON derives its federal license to operate by claiming to fly “aerial photography” helicopter flights that should cater to industry, not thrill-seekers. The former allows dangerous doors-off flights to continue while the federal investigation(s) ensue. Schumer says FlyNYON is conducting operations under FAA’s less-stringent Part 91 regulations as “aerial work operations – aerial photography or survey.” Schumer says this particular license evades local New York rules that restrict certain air tour flights, and this is what the FAA should scrutinize.

Flying dogs

Schumer and Menendez said it is very clear by looking at FlyNYON social media marketing and now the offer for flying dogs to see that the company’s customer base is not industry photographers at all. Instead, they target everyday social media users off the streets who are allowed to book flights snapping pictures while their feet—and now their dog—all but dangles thousands of feet above the New York City skyline. Schumer and Menendez were joined by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the Humane Society of the U.S. in revealing this latest brazen and galling marketing ploy employed by FlyNYON to bait Instagram users and endanger the lives of pets.

Schumer revealed specifics about the FlyNYON social media campaign. Schumer detailed Facebook and Instagram FlyNYON sponsored content that details a deep discount for doors-off flights and the ability to strap in your dog for the price of a human. Schumer cautioned that not only does this advertising tactic reach New Yorkers who may not know the history of the March 2018 crash or that these flights are currently under federal investigation, but he said this is a cruel use of animals and it might break other laws. Schumer said that—at the least—the marketing campaign appears to fail at warning consumers that these flights are still under federal investigation by the NTSB and USDOT. Schumer and Menendez said the company should immediately stop flying dogs over New York and asked the FAA to take a look at the loophole allowing doors-off to remain operational in the first place.

To prove how easy it is to book a doors-off flight with your dog and without any safety disclosure regarding the current investigation, Schumer revealed his office’s successful efforts to secure a doors-off flight with a dog at the exact same time as his event, today, sounding the alarm on this situation.

On March 11, 2018, five passengers in a FlyNYON helicopter were killed when the helicopter crashed into the East River. Following the crash, Schumer urged the FAA to take action, resulting in the now-underway investigations. At the time, Schumer said a deep dive into the FAA policies and practices for reviewing the crashworthiness of helicopters was clearly needed. Schumer also said a review of the testing, and approval process that was conducted before authorizing this specific safety and restraint system was needed. Schumer pointed out that the aforementioned is still underway, including a formal NTSB review; both investigations he spurred.  

Senator Menendez, too, has long pushed for greater helicopter safety in the metropolitan area. Following the 2009 Hudson River tourist helicopter crash in Hoboken, N.J., that killed nine, Sen. Menendez worked with the FAA and local stakeholders to identify stricter helicopter and aircraft traffic safety standards, flight levels and hours of operation. In 2013, Sen. Menendez successfully pushed the FAA to restrict tourist helicopters operating out of Paulus Hook in Jersey City.

According to reports, sightseeing and tourist flights are listed as the third leading category of fatal helicopter accidents. In 2016, the overall helicopter accident rate was 3.19 per 100,000 flight hours. In 2016, there were 106 helicopter accidents, including 17 that were fatal. Since August 2009, the NTSB has investigated 19 helicopter accidents in New York, not including the most recent East River crash. 

Between 1991 and 1994 a number of safety regulations were updated for helicopter operations, and yet since that time a number of reports and findings have indicated that compliance with those regulations remains limited. Either as a result of grandfathered approvals, or safety waivers, Schumer said it appears that many helicopters operating in the United States today do not meet modern safety standards.

Schumer and Menendez’s letter to FAA Administrator Dickson appears below.

Dear Administrator Dickson:  

We write to request that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) initiate a rulemaking to enhance the safety of certain doors-off helicopter operations and close the regulatory loophole that allows operators to evade safety rules that restrict certain air tour flights over New York.  

On March 11, 2018, a doors-off aerial photography flight operated by Liberty Helicopters on behalf of FlyNYON tragically crashed into the East River in New York City, killing five passengers on board. The crash raised serious concerns about the safety of certain doors-off helicopter flights for compensation or hire.

In response to this accident, the FAA issued an Emergency Order prohibiting the use of supplemental passenger restraint systems in doors-off flight operations if they cannot be released quickly in an emergency. The FAA also initiated a rulemaking to permanently ban these types of restraint systems. In addition, the National Transportation Safety Board initiated an investigation, and the Department of Transportation Inspector General began an audit of the FAA’s process for review, approval, and oversight of supplemental restraints.

While we applaud these actions, we remain concerned that certain helicopter operators continue to exploit a loophole in FAA regulations that may pose increased risks to passengers. While the operator of the March 11, 2018 flight was authorized to conduct operations under FAA’s less-stringent Part 91 regulations, it appears that the flight was conducted under an exception specified in FAA regulation §119.1(e)(4)(iii) for “aerial work operations – aerial photography or survey” to evade local New York City rules that restrict certain air tour flights. Under FAA regulations, however, the aerial photography exception does not apply if the primary purpose of a flight is sightseeing.  

As these doors-off helicopters flights are marketed and sold to consumers equipped with smartphones—and not professional photographers with specialized training—common sense suggests that they should be considered air tours for sightseeing under FAA regulations. Allowing operators to falsely characterize flights as “aerial photography work” to evade local flight rules raises serious safety concerns and is simply unacceptable. While the FAA has not made a final determination, it has stated there were indications that the exception did not apply to the March 11, 2018 flight.

Accordingly, we request that the FAA close this regulatory loophole and initiate a rulemaking to determine what additional rules may be needed beyond applicable aircraft operating and airworthiness requirements to enhance the safety of doors-off helicopter flights for compensation or hire.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.  


Charles E. Schumer                                                                Robert Menendez

U.S. Senator                                                                            U.S. Senator