June 11, 2020 / 5:32 PM / 20 days ago

U.S. lawmakers back new helicopter safety equipment after Kobe Bryant crash

FILE PHOTO: Sherriffs and officials investigate the helicopter crash site of NBA star Kobe Bryant in Calabasas, California, U.S., January 27, 2020. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A group of Democratic U.S. lawmakers on Thursday introduced legislation that would require new safety equipment on helicopters that carry six or more passengers in the wake of the crash that killed NBA star Kobe Bryant in January.

The proposal, backed by New York and California’s U.S. senators and three other lawmakers, would require terrain awareness and warning systems and crash-resistant flight data and cockpit voice recorders.

Since 2006, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has urged mandating terrain awareness systems, but U.S regulators only require certain helicopters, such as air ambulances, to have the features.

Bryant, 41, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven other people died when a twin-engine Sikorsky S-76B helicopter slammed into a hillside outside Los Angeles in heavy fog on January 26. The helicopter was not equipped with a terrain awareness warning system or flight data or cockpit voice recorders.

Earlier this month, the NTSB urged six major manufacturers - including Sikorsky - to equip turbine-powered helicopters with crash-resistant systems to record data, audio and images. They have called for mandating so-called black box data recorders on helicopters since 2013.

Sikorsky, a unit of Lockheed Martin Corp, said on Thursday that all new production Sikorsky helicopters are equipped with cockpit voice and flight data recorders and terrain awareness warning systems.

Some helicopters are required by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to have crash-resistant systems to record flight data and cockpit audio, but none are required to have image-recording capability. Some operators have voluntarily equipped their helicopters with recording systems, including image-recording capability.

The FAA declined to comment on the proposed legislation, but said earlier this month it encourages helicopter operators to use flight data recorders to “analyze it for use in improving safety in their day-to-day operations.”

The legislation was introduced by Senators Chuck Schumer, Dianne Feinstein, Kamala Harris, Richard Blumenthal, Kirsten Gillibrand, Edward Markey and Representative Brad Sherman.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Bill Berkrot

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