NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – The helicopter tour company behind a deadly crash in the East River earlier this month continues to sell tickets for open-door flights, even though this type of flight was prohibited after the accident.
Investigators found all five passengers on board drowned, because they couldn't escape their safety harnesses, specially designed for open-door flights. The Federal Aviation Administration has since issued new requirements for the harnesses and suspended all doors-off tours until those requirements are met.
But as the helicopter tour company, FlyNYON, makes the adjustments, it's still selling tickets – even as customers who bought theirs before are waiting on refunds, CBS2's Ali Bauman reported.
Tickets can still be purchased for an open-door flight on the company's website for about $200, and it continues to regularly advertise the tours on social media.
After the fatal accident on March 11, the FAA determined FlyNYON's harnesses, "can significantly delay or prevent passengers from exiting the aircraft in an emergency," and banned all doors-off tours until the company proves its harnesses "can be quickly released by a passenger."
"They said that they were in full compliance with FAA, assured me that it was safe to fly with them, and that they'd be resuming doors-off flights within the coming weeks," FlyNYON customer Brielle Doremus told Bauman.
Doremus bought two tickets before the East River Crash and was supposed to fly days after.
"I would not have paid $400 for a helicopter flight, ever. I only did because it was unique," she said. "Then to hear that it's not safe and that five people died doing this is terrifying."
She's not alone. Online, customers are demanding FlyNYON give refunds for cancelled flights. One asked, "Why does your company have plenty of time to post advertisements on Instagram, but no time to respond… regarding the refund?'
FlyNYON responded, saying, "Our doors-off flights will be resuming in the coming weeks."
Aviation expert Dan Rose said the company must completely redesign its harnesses to meet the new regulations.
"It's not going to be a week, it's not going to be a month, it's not going to be a few months," he said. "For the FAA to approve something like that is going to take a while, and a thorough investigation, and a lot of testing."
FlyNYON told CBS2 it is not offering refunds on existing flights and open-door tours will resume in April, asserting, "Our flights have always been and will continue to be operated in full compliance with applicable FAA regulations."
The company said it did give some refunds to customers directly after the crash. Everyone else is eligible to exchange their tickets for flight credit.
Bauman tried asking the company how its new harnesses will differ from the ones used during the crash, but has not heard back.
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