According to recent reports, the helicopter pilots working for the company had been voicing their safety concerns to the operator management, only to be rebuffed or ignored. Only weeks before the crash, FlyNYON was warned of safety issues with the harnesses and safety cutters in its “doors-off’ photo fights as outlined in company emails.
The incident occurred on March 11, after a FlyNYON helicopter experienced what the pilot believed was an engine failure. The pilot maneuvered the helicopter to make a water landing to avoid a crash. Unfortunately, one of the inflatable pontoons attached to the skids of the helicopters failed to inflate, causing the helicopter to tilt and capsize in the water. In a harrowing testimony by the pilot, the only survivor, the five guests aboard the helicopter were unable to release themselves from their safety harnesses and drowned.
The two largest complaints noted of the FlyNYON company and its operation were:
Poor safety harnesses
Pilots had questioned the wisdom of using safety harnesses that were designed for construction rather than for helicopters. These harnesses were hard to re-size and were tethered to the helicopter using a hard to reach buckle that needed to be cut in case of an emergency.
Pilots noted that the blade provided to cut through the extra tether was not effective and had even made their own investigations to procure better cutters to increase safety.
While it was noted that FlyNYON intended to replace these harnesses with more effective and more expensive flight harnesses, only a handful of these harnesses had been purchased at the time of the accident. The passengers who passed away during the fateful flight were using the older harnesses and were unable to release themselves as they were submerged in the water.
Ineffective safety induction procedures
To meet increasing client demand, FlyNYON employed customer experience (CX) agents to provide the initial safety briefing and induction to passengers, as well as install them into their safety harnesses prior to the flight.
Once fitted into the helicopter, the pilot would then make a final check before getting in the air. Pilots had complained that these CX agents lacked relevant aviation training and experience. One pilot noted that the CX agents operating a flight had not done the relevant weight balancing prior to the flight. He even added that they had made him take on one excess passenger to meet the customer’s demands.
These complaints were met, in some cases, with belligerent opposition by the company’s founder Patrick Day Jr who denied there were any safety issues with the harnesses and made most of the last-minute decisions on flights when there were problems.
This lack of appropriate operational oversight, plus what appears to be a dismissive safety culture among management reveals how easily a company’s desire for profit can trump the need to ‘follow’ the rules’ and ensure customer safety.
The March 11th accident seems to have been inevitable mainly due to the fact that FlyNYON provides a service based on risk (FlyNYON’s marketing asset was that they offered doors-off helicopter flights), where it was more important to take a “shoe selfie” (photos of customers dangling their feet over the city in the doors-off flights) than to have your customers properly strapped in for the ride.
A company whose primary service requires regular safety auditing and checking, like FlyNYON, should not be relying on their pilots to spot problems. In addition to health and safety, any aviation company should ensure to do regular and thorough security checks on equipment and premises.
In the case of FlyNYON, the company should have contracted an external security and safety contractor to do the auditing, as it has become clear that senior management was not willing to fully address existing concerns. Having had a third set of eyes with no relation to the management hierarchy of the company would have assisted FlyNYON to immediately identify and rectify what were seemingly lax safety procedures that have now cost them money, time and their reputation.