TPM Review – HELI

TPM Review – HELI

61ST ANNUAL CONFERENCE, 23-27 May 2022

WP No. 63

TPM Review – HELI

Presented by TOC



Over the past few years, TOC came to the conclusion that the TPM was in need of a significant overhaul in order to ensure consistency throughout the manual and with ICAO. Every year, several slight changes are made to individual policies, but there is a need to look at the entire TPM in a holistic way.


1.1. The Helicopter Operations section of the TPM consists of four policies. These policies are still relevant but are in need of editorial changes.

1.2. The policies cover Operations, Radio Telephony (RTF) Phraseology, and Flight Plan identifiers.

1.3. The overarching intent from these policies can be interpreted as ensuring controllers are made aware, through discrete means, that they are dealing with helicopters in their respective environments.


2.1. HELI 5.1 – Helicopter Operations.

2.1.1. The last review of this policy was conducted in Cancun 2002 (WP 84), with the original Working Paper approved in Athens 1985 (WP 53).

2.1.2. WP 84 of Cancun 2002 acknowledged that 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.

2.1.3. Since the original working paper in Athens 1985, there has been additional Helicopter-specific guidance material in ICAO DOC 8168 – Aircraft Operations, in particular Volume 1, Section 7 – Procedures for use by Helicopters.

2.1.4. However, similar to the findings from WP84 of Cancun 2002, there continues to be a lack of guidance in ICAO material on the integration of rotary and fixed-wing traffic in the aerodrome environment.

2.1.5. The authors of this paper would like to propose several grammatical and editorial changes, and recommend moving the policy to the ATS Section of the TPM:

IFATCA TPM (2019), HELI 5.1 – Helicopters Operations


IFATCA would encourages 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.



2.2. HELI 5.2 – Helicopter RTF Phraseology.

2.2.1. Take-Off / Landing Clearances from Apron In the original working paper from Cairo 1981 (WP 29),ICAO Annexes 2 (ICAO. (July 2005). Annex 2 – Rules of the Air, 10th Edition, Chapter 1, Page 1-7) and 14 (ICAO. (July 2018). Annex 14 – Aerodromes, 8th Edition, Chapter 1, Page 1-7) were cited as defining the Manoeuvring Area as:

“That part of an aerodrome to be used for the take-off, landing and taxiing of aircraft, excluding aprons.

It also highlighted the issue pertaining to the fact that helicopters often operate from areas other than the active runway and that the use of the phraseology “cleared for take-off/landing” is not appropriate to the operation of helicopters directly from/to the apron. A subsequent working paper from Split 1983 (WP 49) pointed out that as per the abovementioned definition, the apron area is not intended to be used for the take-off and landing of aircraft, and ATC jurisdiction does not extend to the apron area. As such, ATC has no prerogative to decide whether helicopter take-off and/or landing from the apron are operationally safe manoeuvres either in general or in specific instances. Safety of such operations would depend on many factors over which ATC has little control, in particular the lookout maintained by both helicopter crew and personnel employed on the apron. In the most recent working paper on this topic from Kaohsiung 2006 (WP 94), it was revealed that the ICAO Heliops Panel and RTF Study Group in 1980 concluded that no special phraseologies were required to cover helicopter landing, take-off or ground manoeuvring. Apart from the preceding paragraphs, there is still little other information or guidance material available within ICAO Documentation. WP94 from Kaohsiung 2006 highlighted the instance of operations in the certain United Kingdom aerodromes, controllers use the phraseology “LAND/TAKE-OFF AT YOUR DISCRETION” helicopters operate out of areas other than the manoeuvring area and areas out of sight from the Tower. These are not obligatory but used at the discretion of the controller. Given that the definition of Manoeuvring Area has not changed, ATC jurisdiction of Apron areas remains limited. Coupled with the lack of detailed guidance material on helicopter operations pertaining to ATC service provision, current IFATCA Policy on the issue continues to be relevant.

2.2.2. “Helicopter” RTF Callsign Prefix The rationale for this policy can be derived from WP29 from Cairo 1981. In the paper, there were reported difficulties of recognising a helicopter from an RTF call, particularly if the registration is used rather than a company trip number. Any misunderstanding by the controller of the aircraft he/she is controlling can have serious consequences. This is amplified in the Aerodrome/Approach environment, where the difference in operating capabilities may lead to a loss of separation or incorrect clearances. While some ATSUs have already adopted the practice of adding the “Helicopter” prefix to initial RTF calls, there is no requirement in ICAO documentation to do so. IFATCA Policy on this issue is therefore still relevant.

2.2.3. In light of the above, the authors recommend moving the policy to the ATS Section of the TPM:

IFATCA TPM (2019), HELI 5.2 – Helicopter RTF Phraseology

 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.

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. HELI 5.3 – Helicopters: Discrete Identification in Flight Plans.

2.3.1. The original working paper from Estoril 1984 (WP 79) had recommendations for Aircraft Registration and Aircraft Type Designators in the ICAO Standard Flight Plan.

2.3.2. Aircraft Identification or Registration Currently, Aircraft Identification filled in Item 7 of the ICAO Standard Flight Plan is filled with the ICAO designator for the aircraft operating agency followed by the flight identification (e.g. KLM511, NGA213, JTR25), or the nationality or common mark and registration mark of the aircraft (e.g. EIAKO, 4XBCD, N2567GA). The nationality or common mark and registration mark of the aircraft, if different from the aircraft identification in Item 7, will be inserted in Item 18 and prefixed with “REG/”. In the 1984 working paper, it was recommended to develop an internationally agreed system for self-evident registration markings of helicopters for use as aircraft identification. In some countries in Europe a system of this type is already in use nationally e.g.:

Sweden: SE-HAB
Germany: D-HABC It is not clear if all states have adopted similar practices in their aircraft registration conventions, but this system would be useful in helping controllers identify helicopters from their Registration marks regardless of their knowledge of helicopter types.

2.3.3. Aircraft Type Designator Currently, Item 9 in the ICAO Flight Plan specifies Aircraft Type Designators listed in ICAO Doc 8643. Operators are only able to specify in Item 18 only if “ZZZZ” is inserted in Item 9 when AC designator not available, or formation flights consisting of different aircraft types, e.g. TYP/ 2EC20 4B206. As flight strips typically only present these designators and the corresponding wake turbulence category (WTC), controllers would have to be familiar with helicopter designators to effectively differentiate between fixed & rotary wing aircraft. In the working paper from 1984, it was recommended that a new additional Helicopter category character “R” be created for insertion in item 9 of the ICAO Standard Flight Plan for rotary wing aircraft in lieu of the Wake Turbulence category character. In the latest edition of ICAO DOC 4444, Sixteenth Edition 2016, there are only three wake turbulence categories: As helicopters vary in size and have corresponding Wake Turbulence Categories based on existing parameters, it would not be practicable to classify all helicopters under “R”. This suggestion in the 1984 working paper should be read with the intent of the resulting policy in mind.

2.3.4. In light of the above, the authors recommend moving the policy to the ATS Section of the TPM:

IFATCA TPM (2019), HELI 5.3 – Helicopters: Discrete Identification in Flight Plans

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




3.1. Beside the slight amendments proposed for HELI 5.1, it was felt that the HELI section of the TPM could easily be merged into the ATS section of the manual. There are at present only three policies in HELI, which in our view does not warrant an entire section.


4.1. It is recommended that the abovementioned sections of the Technical and Professional Manual (TPM) be amended accordingly, as described in Section 2 of this working paper.


ICAO. (2018). Procedures for Air Navigation Services – Aircraft Operations (Doc 8168), 6th Edition, Part II, Section 7. Montréal, Canada: ICAO.

IFATCA. (2019). IFATCA Technical and Professional Manual (TPM). 2019 Ed. Montréal, Canada: International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers’ Associations.


Last Update: July 26, 2022  

July 20, 2022   268   Jean-Francois Lepage    2022    

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