Overhaul urban aviation safety

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Overhaul urban aviation safety

An S-76C helicopter owned by LG Electronics crashed into a high-rise apartment building in Samseong-dong, Gangnam District, at 8:54 a.m. on Saturday. Both pilots on board the aircraft were killed. The accident - the first time a helicopter flying over the center of the city struck a tall building - rings loud alarm bells for air safety in Seoul and other metropolitan areas. The accident causes a much bigger worry than past helicopter accidents, which resulted from hitting high-voltage electric lines.

The government should take the accident as an opportunity to raise the safety of aviation in the center of the city to a higher level. Thanks to a rapid rise in aviation traffic, a total of 33 enterprises operate as many as 180 helicopters for business, tourism and emergency purposes. Though the number of helicopters in the air will surely increase at a fast pace, the number of skyscrapers will increase faster. In the megacity of Seoul alone, there are 16 buildings higher than 50 stories and 322 taller than 30 stories. In Busan, the number of structures higher than 50 stories has already reached 25. All of that raises serious concerns about the safety of our skyscrapers.

However, the problem is the government’s lax regulations involving civilian helicopters as anyone can fly over the downtown areas of big cities. The only requirement is that they refrain from flying over densely populated areas. That’s a critical lack of safety regulations.

The aviation authorities must thoroughly overhaul and reinforce systems for public safety, along with efforts to raise the awareness of helicopter pilots when they fly over densely populated downtown areas. The government must establish systems to enable aviation authorities to closely monitor civilian flights through efficient air-traffic control and effective communications with heliports in urban areas to prevent a catastrophe. At the same time, the aviation authorities must devise a detailed disaster-management manual on rescuing residential victims and checking the safety of buildings after being hit by choppers and other aircraft.

To achieve that goal, related authorities such as the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, the Ministry of National Defense and local governments must cooperate to strengthen safety education for civilian pilots as well as the general public. The local governments in particular should thoroughly review all the safety issues before granting permission to developers of skyscrapers. The authorities must determine effective ways to increase safety of aviation above the Han River, a major aviation route for civilian as well as military flights.

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