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In September, an Aeromexico Embraer E190 regional jet was rolling down the runway at the Mexico City International Airport when the pilots abandoned take-off because a formation of helicopters was flying over the end of the runway.
Helicopters are heavy users of airports, but are given more operational flexibility by air traffic controllers than fixed-wing aircraft. This means helicopter pilots need to have clear situational awareness in an airport environment to avoid compromising the safety of airplanes moving around taxiways and runways.
Speaking at the 2022 Vertical Aviation Safety Team (VAST) conference in Hurst, Texas, on Oct. 5, Phil Jennings, a former U.S. Army helicopter pilot and currently a pilot for the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center consortium, said there is a “perception that airplanes and helicopters are always operating in a controlled airport environment even when they’re not.”
He added this can become “really problematic” if helicopter pilots do not take precautions when operating around airports.
“There is no technological solution,” Jennings said. “This still is likely to continue to be very much an eyes out, head on a swivel sort of thing” for helicopter pilots operating at airports. “Caution must be exhibited when active runways are involved.”
Jennings said airplanes are given specific directions by air traffic controllers for taxiing, taking off and landing. Airplane pilots must have a detailed flight plan, established in concert with air traffic control (ATC), before take-off.
“I don’t think that helicopter pilots typically do that even though helicopter pilots are [often] operating [at airports] in an air taxi mode where they’re going to fly right over the surface area of the airport,” Jennings said. “Helicopters have a less explicit mandate that is essentially to avoid the flow of fixed-wing traffic.”