June 16, 2011 (San Diego) The FAA has sent a written statement in response to an ECM inquiry for information on the two SDG&E Sunrise Powerlink towers dropped by a sky crane helicopter June 7 and June 10. The statement indicates a replacement helicopter has arrived in San Diego and will undergo tests Monday in Imperial County.
The FAA also indicates sky cranes are not certified to fly over occupied populated areas when carrying heavy loads. The spokesman, Ian Gregor, later clarified in an e-mail that "a lift could occur over a populated area if that were absolutely necessary. However, nobody unessential to the operation could be on the ground below while the lift took place, and the lift could not take place directly over homes."
Below is the statement in full received this afternoon from Gregor, public information manager at the FAA Pacific Division:
Following the first mishap last week, FAA inspectors told the SkyCrane operator that we wanted them to inspect the lift system and conduct practice lifts before resuming operations. The company completed these tasks and resumed lift operations. They successfully moved four towers at Plaster City but the hook system failed on the fifth lift.
FAA regulations require operators to have safety plans and ensure that nobody on the ground is endangered during a lift operation. In these instances, FAA regulations ensured that nobody on the ground was in jeopardy as a result of either incident.
After the second incident, SDG&E decided to replace the SkyCrane that dropped both towers with a different SkyCrane. The new aircraft arrived in San Diego yesterday.
The operator plans to do practice lifts with it in Plaster City on Monday. FAA inspectors will observe these lifts to ensure the aircraft and crew can successfully lift loads similar to the tower loads they plan to carry. If they successfully complete a sufficient number of practice lifts, they will be able to start lifting the electrical towers.
Should the practice flight lifts prove to be problematical in any way, we will not authorize tower lifting until the operator addresses all of our inspectors' concerns.concerns to the satisfaction of the Principal Inspector.
You also asked whether these aircraft can be flown over populated areas. SkyCranes have standard airworthiness certificates and can fly over populated areas when they're not carrying any external loads.