Review of IFATCA Policy Concerning Helicopter Operations

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Review of IFATCA Policy Concerning Helicopter Operations

41TH ANNUAL CONFERENCE, Cancun, Mexico, 15-19 April 2002

WP No. 84

Review of IFATCA Policy Concerning Helicopter Operations

Presented by SC1


1.1 This policy was adopted in 1983 and 85. There are several elements to the policy Phraseology, ATC Aspects, Flight Planning which need to be reviewed with the ICAO documentation PANS-RAC Appendix 2, PANS-RAC 9-21, PANS-RAC 5 3,4(4.3) ATS PM II 4-3-1,2; PANS OPS (Doc 8168) Vol 1 Part XI) This paper reviews this policy.


2.1.1 IFATCA POLICY is that :

“Procedures should be developed in order to integrate fixed and rotary-winged operations at airfields. In developing these procedures cognisance should be taken of the unique operating characteristics of the helicopter. To accommodate such operations local procedures should be developed to permit:

The development of discrete helicopter departure and arrival routes;

a) Shorter instrument or radar approach patterns;

b) Approaches to subsidiary runways followed by a suitable visual manoeuvre for landing on a separate heli-runway or helipad;

c) Reduced horizontal separation on radar approaches between helicopters following fixed-wing aircraft, subject to proper authorisation and wake turbulence;

d) Landing and take-off at intersections of runways, subject to wake vortex considerations.

IFATCA would encourage the development of separate helicopter facilities on existing airfields where considered beneficial and would also approve the integration of rotary-wing and fixed-wing operations at such airfields.”


2.1.2 ICAO documentation states little about the integration of rotary and fixed-wing operations. ICAO Doc.8168 PANS-OPS Volume 1 Part XI does state, however:

Helicopter only procedures may be designed and authorised for airspeeds lower than those established in Category A aeroplanes.

For flight operations using Category A procedures, the primary requirement is to maintain airspeed within Category A tolerances.

High vertical speed rates can also present a hazard on approach or departure. Circling procedures are not applicable to helicopters. Instead, helicopters should manoeuvre visually to a suitable landing area.


2.1.3.  The following additional ICAO guidance applies to helicopter operations in which the helicopter is operated as an aeroplane:

Certain operational constraints must be applied when helicopters use a procedure designed for aeroplane and where no special helicopter procedure has been promulgated. This applies to both the departure and approach phases of flight.

Helicopters may be classified as Category A aircraft for the purposes of designing instrument approach procedures and specifications.


2.1.4.  Additional guidance (Doc.4444 PANS-RAC page 5-2 para 4.3 and page 5-9 para 10.5) is provided by ICAO on the following aspects of helicopter operation on airfields, as follows:

Most light helicopters are flown by one pilot and require the constant use of both hands and feet to maintain control during low altitude/low-level flight. Although flight control friction devices assist the pilot, changing frequency near the ground could result in inadvertent ground contact and consequent loss of control. [Therefore], a frequency change should not be issued to single pilot helicopters during emergency situations, air-taxiing or low-level flight. Whenever possible, control instructions from the next ATS unit should be relayed as necessary until the pilot is able to change frequency.

When necessary for a wheeled helicopter to taxi on the surface, the following provisions are applicable:

a) Helicopters with articulating rotors (usually designs with three or more main rotor blades) are subject to ground resonance and may, on rare occasions, suddenly lift off the ground to avoid severe damage or destruction.

b) Air taxiing consumes fuel at a high burn rate and rotor downwash turbulence increases significantly with larger and heavier helicopters.

c) Avoid issuing instructions which require small aircraft or helicopters to taxi in close proximity to taxiing, landing or departing helicopters.


2.2 Helicopter Flight Planning

2.2.1  IFATCA Policy states:

“Procedures should be developed for Flight Plan data to provide a clear differentiation between fixed-wing and helicopter flights.”


2.2.2  ICAO Procedures as listed in PANS-RAC Appendix 2 indicate there is still no differentiation between fixed wing and rotary wing aircraft types with respect to flight planning.

2.3. Helicopter RTF Procedures

2.3.1  IFATCA currently upholds two policies with respect to RTF phraseology associated with helicopter operations. Firstly:

It is often normal practice on airfields for helicopters to take off and land from parts of the apron area. However these areas, not being part of the maneuvering area, are not under the control of ATC and there may be traffic to affect the take- off or landing.

“The phraseology ‘Cleared for take-off/landing’ is not appropriate for use with helicopters operating directly to or from the apron area, as it is currently defined by ICAO. Alternative phraseology should be developed which reflects the limit of ATC responsibility when dealing with such operations.”


2.3.2  ICAO Doc.4444 page 10-18 provides the following phraseology to be used when helicopters are operating from an area outwith the airfields manoeuvring area:

“Cleared for take off from (present position, taxiway, final approach and take-off area, runway and number)”.


2.3.3  IFATCA’s second policy in this respect states:

It is essential that controllers know whether they are dealing with helicopters or fixed wing aircraft. To ensure that no confusion can arise IFATCA policy is:

“Helicopter pilots should use the RTF callsign prefix ‘HELICOPTER’ on first contact with an ATSU, except when it is obvious from the callsign that the aircraft is a helicopter.”


2.3.4  ICAO Annex 10 provides no additional phraseology to permit easy differentiation between fixed and rotary wing types on the RTF.


3.1 IFATCA policy and ICAO procedures regarding Helicopter Operations are compatible in some areas, such as taking into account the very different flying characteristics of helicopters and fixed wing types. However in areas such as flight planning, RTF procedures and the integration of rotary and fixed-wing traffic in the aerodrome environment, ICAO offers little or no guidance.


It is recommended that;

4.1 The current IFATCA policy regarding helicopter operations be retained.

Last Update: September 29, 2020  

March 14, 2020   764   Jean-Francois Lepage    2002    

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