California congressman calls on FAA to boost helicopter safety after Kobe Bryant crash

The Kobe Bryant and Gianna Bryant Helicopter Safety Act would require all helicopters to have a TAWS safety system.
Image: People watch as smoke rises from the scene of a helicopter crash that killed basketball star Kobe Bryant in Calabasas, Calif., on Jan. 26, 2020.
People watch as smoke rises from the scene of a helicopter crash that killed basketball star Kobe Bryant in Calabasas, Calif., on Jan. 26, 2020.Ringo Chiu / Reuters

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By Corky Siemaszko

A California congressman called for the Federal Aviation Administration to strengthen helicopter safety standards in the wake of the crash that killed NBA legend Kobe Bryant, his teenage daughter Gianna, and seven others.

In particular, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) said Thursday he is urging the agency to act on the National Transportation Safety Board’s recommendation that all helicopters be equipped with TAWS, which is a terrain awareness and warning system that alerts a pilot when an aircraft gets too close to the ground.

The Sikorsky S-76B chopper that Bryant was aboard Sunday was not equipped with TAWS, the NTSB has said.

“Had this system been on the helicopter, it is likely the tragic crash could have been avoided,” Sherman said in a statement. “These systems cost between $25,000 to $40,000 per helicopter.”

The NTSB has not yet determined what caused the deadly crash and experts are on the fence about whether a TAWS system could have prevented the catastrophe.

But, as NBC News reported earlier this week, the NTSB recommended equipping all helicopters with TAWS systems but the FAA has, since 2012, only required them for ambulance and other medical helicopters.

“The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 directed the FAA to include safety equipment, including TAWS, in helicopter and air ambulance operations,” the FAA said in a statement. “Many helicopter air ambulance operations are conducted at night and from unimproved and unfamiliar landing areas. By contrast, on-demand operations tend to occur in populated areas, relying on a robust network of routes and landing facilities.”

NTSB investigators Adam Huray, right, and Carol Hogan examine wreckage as part of their investigation of the helicopter crash near Calabasas, Calif. that killed former NBA basketball player Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others.James Anderson / National Transportation Safety Board via AP

The Kobe Bryant and Gianna Bryant Helicopter Safety Act would direct the FAA to coordinate with the NTSB to set new safety standards, establish a commission on helicopter safety, and “require a report to Congress on best practices for helicopters in cases of low visibility.”

“Safety has to be the top priority and the FAA should act to protect the public and prevent future tragedies like this,” Sherman told NBC News.

In an email, FAA spokesman Ian Gregor responded, “The FAA does not comment on proposed legislation.”

NBC News has also reached out to the NTSB for comment.

On Tuesday, lead crash investigator Jennifer Homendy told reporters she couldn’t say whether having a TAWS system on board could have prevented Sunday’s crash.

“Certainly, TAWS could have helped,” Homendy said.

Bryant’s helicopter flew over Sherman’s district before it crashed in Calabasas while en route to Camarillo Airport in Ventura County. The former Los Angeles Laker star and his daughter were heading to Bryant’s Mamba Sports Academy.