Helicopter Operations – ATC Aspects

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Helicopter Operations – ATC Aspects

22ND ANNUAL CONFERENCE, Split, Yugoslavia, 21-25 March 1983

WP No. 49

Helicopter Operations – ATC Aspects


In accordance with REC B 17 of IFATCA 82 , SC1 has continued to monitor ATC aspects of helicopter operations. As noted by the Chairman of SC 1 in his report under Agenda Item B.2., IFATCA has been invited to make written submission to the HELIOPS Panel on those items on its work programme in which IFATCA is interested. SC 1’s main task during 1982 has therefore been to identify these items, and they are listed in para 2.1 below.

Certain MA’s , in discussion, have expressed concern over the separation standards applied to helicopter traffic operating on VOR radial track structures over the North sea. This is discussed in para 2.2 below.

SC 1 has considered the operation of helicopters direct from apron areas, and this is discussed in para 2.3 below.


Proposals for classification of helicopters (e.g. with respect to number of powerplants, speed weight etc.) – IFATCA is concerned to ensure that any classification system for helicopters enables ATC to differentiate easily between helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft when dealing with Flight Plan data. This same requirement applies in ground/air and ground/ground speech communications.

Definition of Basic Standard Operating Procedures for the various phases of flight. From within this very wide area, six items are considered of particular interest :

  1. Procedures for air taxiing;
  2. Procedures for use of helipads situated within controlled airspace;
  3. IFR Separation minima to be used between helicopters operating adjacent to an airfield or helipad with particular reference to the approach phase;
    (Note: REC B.9/WP29 CAIRO 1981 refers.)
  4. Procedures for use of area and /or point navigation aids in high density traffic areas;
  5. Altimeter setting procedures with particular reference to the use of radio altimeters in addition to pressure altimeters;
  6. Procedures for the provision of a cruising level structure below 3000ft. With particular reference to the use of 500ft. Vertical separation.

Whilst certain of these items are covered by existing guidance material and/or policy, SC 1 has been unable, in the time available, to prepare details if its intended submissions for discussion at conference. In order to ensure that the views of MA’s are fully reflected in the submissions. SC 1 has prepared a questionnaire which MA’s are requested to complete by 30th June 1983. The submissions themselves must be completed by September 1983. (NOTE: The questionnaire will be available at conference).

North Sea Helicopter Operations

Details of the procedures used in dealing with the high density helicopter traffic operating over the North Sea were given in IFATCA 82 WP 20. The track structures used for these helicopters involve both VOR radial systems and parallel track systems.

In informal discussion MA’s have expressed concern over the separation standards currently applied to traffic operating on radial track systems as compared to operations on parallel track systems. The operation of these two systems and the relative ease or difficulty with which ATC can separate traffic on them are of particular relevance to the work of the HELIOPS Panel, as noted in para 2.1.2.d. SC 1 therefore considers that in conjunction with appropriate MA’s it should examine the operation of the radial and parallel track structures used over the North Sea.

Helicopter Operations From Apron Areas

At many airports it is common practice for helicopters to take-off from, or land onto, the apron rather than part of the manoeuvring area. This procedure may be perfectly safe, and is certainly expeditious. However, as by definition (in Annex 2 and 14) the apron area is not intended to be used for the take- off and landing of aircraft, and as ATC jurisdiction does not extend to the apron area, operation of helicopters from the apron must be of doubtful validity from the ATC viewpoint.

There are several possible solutions to this problem, viz :

  1. Re-defined apron to permit the operation of helicopters;
  2. Defined areas on the apron could be marked and designated as “manoeuvring area” for the purpose of helicopter operations;
  3. ATC clearances could be phrased to indicate that any clearance for helicopters to approach or depart from the apron was with respect only to other traffic in flight.

It is clearly not the prerogative of ATC to decide whether helicopter take-off and/or landing from the apron are operationally safe manoeuvres either in general or in specific instances. However, any such operation must depend for its safety on factors over which ATC has little control, in particular the lookout maintained by both helicopter crew and personnel employed on the apron.

SC 1 considers that, pending international resolution of this problem, the normal ATC phrases “ cleared for take-off/landing “ are not appropriate when dealing with helicopters operating directly to/from an area of apron.

To conclude

SC1 requires the active assistance of all MA’s in order to ensure that its submissions to the ICAO HELIOPS Panel accurately reflect the views of IFATCA.

The operation of the radial track and parallel track systems over the North sea and similar density traffic areas requires particular investigation in order to determine what problems exist in the application of current separation standards to helicopters operation in such areas.

The use of the phraseology “ cleared for take-off/landing” is not appropriate to the operation of helicopters directly from/to the apron.

It is recommended that:

MA’s assist SC1 in the preparation of the IFATCA submissions to the ICAO HELIOPS Panel by completing and returning the questionnaire issued at Conference by 30 June 1983.

That the following policy statements be adopted:

“ Whilst the use by helicopters of clearly defined parts of the Apron Area for landing and take-off may be safe, IFATCA recognises that such areas are not defined as manoeuvring areas and that ATC therefore has no direct control over interacting traffic. Pending the solution of this problem IFATCA considers that the phraseology “Cleared for Take/Landing” is not appropriate for use with helicopters operating directly from/to the apron area, as currently defined by ICAO, and that alternative phraseology should be developed which reflects the limit of ATC responsibility when dealing with such operations”.

Last Update: September 20, 2020  

November 28, 2019   435   Jean-Francois Lepage    1983    

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