Senator wants probe of Hawaii FAA office after 3 crashes

HONOLULU — A whistleblower has told a Senate committee that a manager in the Federal Aviation Administration’s Hawaii field office improperly let a helicopter tour company owner certify pilots for flight on behalf of the agency.

The owner then approved a pilot, who was at the controls 10 days later in April 2019 when a company aircraft crashed, killing all three people on board.

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The allegation and others about managers at the Hawaii office, prompted a key senator to ask the Transportation Department’s Inspector General for an investigation. Novictor Aviation has been involved in three crashes during the past two years, according to a Jan. 24 letter from Sen. Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican who chairs the Transportation Committee.

Two whistleblowers allege an inappropriately close relationship between FAA managers and Novictor.

An FAA manager, in an interview Friday with The Associated Press, said the allegation that he improperly granted “check airman” status to Novictor’s owner was incorrect. He accused the whistleblower of “making up stories again.”

John Cox, vice-president of safety for Novictor Helicopters, called the allegations “grossly misleading.”

“The relationship between the Honolulu office and Novictor is one of professional commitment to safety and regulatory compliance,” Cox said in a statement. “A rogue, disgruntled inspector’s opinion is not representative of the facts.”

Allegations raised by the whistleblowers also include managers directing that investigative reports be altered, and management retaliation against an employee who reported the problems, according to the letter from Wicker to Inspector General Calvin Scovel III.

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The committee says in a fact sheet on the case that its own investigation isn’t complete, but it “raises significant concerns about the efficacy of FAA oversight in Hawaii.”

The FAA said Friday that it has been investigating on its own and already is taking steps to address problems that have been substantiated.

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