March 7, 2014

The change that is likely to have potential impact on ag helicopter operators is an increase in weather minimums for all general aviation helicopter operations in Class G airspace.

The FAA issued a final rule regarding new helicopter operating regulations on Feb. 21. The rule was primarily aimed at reducing the growing number of fatal helicopter air ambulance accidents. The rule also effects commercial helicopter operations conducted under Part 135 and even general aviation helicopter operations conducted under Part 91.
The final rule goes into effect April 22. The helicopter operating regulations implement new operational procedures and additional equipment requirements for helicopter air ambulance operations. In addition, it increases safety for commercial helicopter operations by revising requirements for equipment, pilot testing and alternate airports. The change that is likely to have potential impact on the ag and non-commercial helicopter operators is an increase in weather minimums for all general aviation helicopter operations in Class G airspace.
NAAA suggests you read the entire document for details, but the changes are summarized below.
For Part 91 helicopter operations, §91.155 revises the weather minimums while operating in Class G airspace. §91.155 titled “Basic VFR weather minimums” includes a table which gives the minimum flight visibility and distance from clouds that aircraft must maintain in order to remain VFR. The table breaks down these minimums for each class of airspace. Under the new requirements for Class G airspace, when operating at 1,200 feet or less above the surface (regardless of MSL altitude), helicopters must adhere to the following minimums:
  • During the day, except as provided in §91.155(b), the minimum visibility is ½ statute mile and the aircraft must remain clear of clouds.
  • At night, again except as provided in §91.155(b), the minimum visibility is 1 statute mile and remain clear of clouds. An exception in §91.155(b)(1) allows a helicopter to be operated clear of clouds in an airport traffic pattern within ½ mile of a runway or helipad of intended landing if the flight visibility is not less than ½ statute mile.
  • Previously, when operating in Class G airspace at less than 1,200 feet AGL, a helicopter was allowed to operate clear of clouds if operated at a speed that allows the pilot adequate opportunity to see any air traffic or obstruction in time to avoid a collision.
For Part 135 rotorcraft operators some new rules have been established. The rotorcraft must be equipped with a radio altimeter; additional safety equipment is required to operate over water; revises alternate airport weather minimums under §135.221; and requires pilot testing in flat-light whiteout and brownout conditions and a demonstration of competency in recovery from an inadvertent flight into instrument meteorological conditions (IIMC).
The bulk of the changes is for Part 135 helicopter air ambulance operators. The first is the requirement for flights with medical personnel on board to be conducted under Part 135 rather than Part 91. The rule mandates flight planning, preflight risk analysis, safety briefings for medical personnel, and certificate holders with 10 or more helicopter air ambulances must establish operations control centers (OCC) to assist in safety-sensitive functions similar to an aircraft dispatcher. The rule includes provisions to encourage instrument flight rules (IFR) operations. Air ambulances must be equipped with helicopter terrain awareness and warning systems (HTAWS) to warn pilots about obstructions in their flight path and flight data monitoring systems. Helicopter air ambulance pilots will be required to hold instrument ratings.
The rule is quite detailed and requires 49 pages in the Federal Register. We suggest you read the new rule and determine if any part of it pertains to your operation.
originally found on the NAAA’s website.

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