California lawmaker proposes bill to require added safety system on commercial helicopters

WASHINGTON — Murals and memorials throughout Southern California now commemorate the life of Kobe Bryant and Congressman Brad Sherman says he has another way to honor Bryant’s legacy.

“We can’t bring Kobe back. We can save many, many lives in the future,” said Rep. Sherman (D-California).

He introduced a bill to require all commercial helicopters to have a terrain awareness warning system.

It alerts pilots in low visibility conditions when they’re near mountains or other dangers that lie in their path.

“Had that been in the helicopter, maybe this disaster would’ve been avoided,” Sherman said.

Since 2014, the FAA has required that all medical helicopters have the warning system. But for commercial helicopters, like the one Kobe Bryant and 10 other passengers died on, it’s optional.

“It’s not a panacea, it doesn’t necessarily work in all environments or for all missions,” said Chris Hill, director of safety for Helicopter Association International.

Hill says terrain awareness technology won’t always be helpful.

Some aircraft fly exclusively through mountainous areas or over skyscrapers.

Hill says the warning system in those cases would trigger too often.

But he says safety technology is generally useful.

“Helicopter technology systems can give the pilot the added information they need to prevent an accident,” Hill said.

Ultimately, the FAA would have to enforce the new rule.

The agency declined an on-camera interview, but said in a statement: “It’s important to note that safety improvements do not only result from new rules.”