Approach to a PinS
The note associated with these procedures is: “PROCEED VFR FROM (NAMED MAP) OR CONDUCT THE SPECIFIED MISSED APPROACH.” They may be developed as a special or public procedure where the MAP is located more than 2 SM from the landing site, the turn from the final approach to the visual segment is greater than 30 degrees, or the VFR segment from the MAP to the landing site has obstructions that require pilot actions to avoid them. Figure 7-13 is an example of a public PinS approach that allows the pilot to fly to one of four heliports after reaching the MAP.
For Part 135 operations, pilots may not begin the instrument approach unless the latest weather report indicates that the weather conditions are at or above the authorized IFR or VFR minimums as required by the class of airspace, operating rule and/or OpSpecs, whichever is higher. Visual contact with the landing site is not required; however, prior to the MAP, for either Part 91 or 135 operators, the pilot must determine if the flight visibility meets the basic VFR minimums required by the class of airspace, operating rule and/or OpSpecs (whichever is higher). The visibility is limited to no lower than that published in the procedure until canceling IFR. If VFR minimums do not exist, then the published MAP must be executed. The pilot must contact air traffic control (ATC) upon reaching the MAP, or as soon as practical after that, and advise whether executing the missed approach or canceling IFR and proceeding VFR.
To proceed VFR in uncontrolled airspace, Part 135 operators must observe minimum regulatory VFR conditions, but under some conditions, such as provided for in 14 CFR 135.613 for HAA operators, specific weather minimums are required when near the MAP and the heliport of intended landing. These minimums apply regardless of whether the approach is located on the plains of Oklahoma or in the Colorado mountains. However, for heliports located farther than 3 NM from the heliport, Part135 HAA operators are held to an even higher standard and the minimums and lighting conditions contained in Figure 7-15 apply to the entire route. Mountainous terrain at night with low light conditions requires a ceiling of 1,000 feet and either 3 SM or 5 SM visibility depending on whether it has been determined as part of the operator’s local flying area.
In Class B, C, D, and E surface area airspace, a SVFR clearance may be obtained if SVFR minimums exist. On your flight plan, give ATC a heads up about your intentions by entering the following in the remarks section: “Request SVFR clearance after the MAP.”
Approach to a Specific VFR Heliport
The note associated with these procedures is: “PROCEED VISUALLY FROM (NAMED MAP) OR CONDUCT THE SPECIFIED MISSED APPROACH.” Due to their unique characteristics, these approaches require training. They are developed for hospitals, oil rigs, private heliports, etc. As Specials, they require Flight Standards approval by a Letter of Authorization (LOA) for Part 91 operators or by OpSpecs for Part 135 operators. For public procedures, the heliport associated with these procedures must be located within 2 SM of the MAP, the visual segment between the MAP and the heliport evaluated for obstacle hazards, and the heliport must meet the appropriate VFR heliport recommendations of AC 150/5390-2, Heliport Design.
The PinS optimum location is 0.65 NM from the heliport. This provides an adequate distance to decelerate and land from an approach speed of 70 KIAS. Certain airframes may be certified to fly at reduced VMINI or below VMINI speeds as a result of flight control design or adherence to AC 29-2, Certification of Transport Category Rotorcraft. In these cases, an approach procedure stating the minimum certified airspeed or flight below VMINI should be annotated on the approach procedure. The distance also permits optimal blending of obstacle clearance criteria with noninstrument heliport approach areas.
The visibility minimum is based on the distance from the MAP to the heliport, among other factors (e.g., height above the heliport elevation when at the MAP MDA). The pilot is required to acquire and maintain visual contact with the heliport final approach and takeoff (FATO) area at or prior to the MAP. Obstacle or terrain avoidance from the MAP to the heliport is the responsibility of the pilot. Pilots need to level off when reaching the MDA, which may occur before arriving at the MAP, until reaching the visual approach angle on the approach path to clear the obstacles. If the required weather minimums do not exist, then the published MAP must be executed at the MAP because IFR obstruction clearance areas are not applied to the visual segment of the approach and a missed approach segment protection is not provided between the MAP and the heliport. As soon as practicable after reaching the MAP, the pilot advises ATC whether cancelling IFR and proceeding visually or executing the missed approach.
Whether it is a corporate or HAA operation, helicopter pilots sometimes operate in challenging weather conditions. An encounter with weather that does not permit continued flight under VFR might occur when conditions do not allow for the visual determination of a usable horizon (e.g., fog, snow showers, or night operations over unlit surfaces such as water). Flight in conditions of limited visual contrast should be avoided since this can result in a loss of horizontal or surface reference, and obstacles such as wires become perceptually invisible. To prevent spatial disorientation, loss of control (LOC) or CFIT, pilots should slow the helicopter to a speed that provides a controlled deceleration in the distance equal to the forward visibility. The pilot should look for terrain that provides sufficient contrast to either continue the flight or to make a precautionary landing. If spatial disorientation occurs and a climb into IMC is not feasible due to fuel state, icing conditions, equipment, etc., make every effort to land the helicopter with a slight forward descent to prevent any sideward or rearward motion.
All helicopter pilots should receive training on avoidance and recovery from inadvertent IMC with emphasis on avoidance. An unplanned transition from VMC to IMC flight is an emergency that involves a different set of pilot actions. It requires the use of different navigation and operational procedures, interaction with ATC, and crewmember resource management (CRM). Consideration should be given to the local flying area’s terrain, airspace, air traffic facilities, weather (including seasonal affects such as icing and thunderstorms), and available airfield/heliport approaches.
Training should emphasize the identification of circumstances conducive to inadvertent IMC and a strategy to abandon continued VFR flight in deteriorating conditions. This strategy should include a minimum altitude/airspeed combination that provides for an off airport/heliport landing, diverting to better conditions, or initiating an emergency transition to IFR. Pilots should be able to readily identify the minimum initial altitude and course in order to avoid CFIT. Current IFR en route and approach charts for the route of flight are essential. A GPS navigation receiver with a moving map provides exceptional situational awareness for terrain and obstacle avoidance.
Training for an emergency transition to IFR should include full and partial panel instrument flight, unusual attitude recovery, ATC communications, and instrument approaches. If an ILS is available and the helicopter is equipped, an ILS approach should be made. Otherwise, if the helicopter is equipped with an IFR approach-capable GPS receiver with a current database, a GPS approach should be made. If neither, an ILS or GPS procedure is available use another instrument approach.
Upon entering inadvertent IMC, priority must be given to control of the helicopter. Keep it simple and take one action at a time.
- Control. First use the wings on the attitude indicator to level the helicopter. Maintain heading and increase to climb power. Establish climb airspeed at the best angle of climb but no slower than VMINI.
- Climb. Climb straight ahead until your crosscheck is established. Then make a turn only to avoid terrain or objects. If an altitude has not been previously established with ATC to climb to for inadvertent IMC, then you should climb to an altitude that is at least 1,000 feet above the highest known object and that allows for contacting ATC.
- Communicate. Attempt to contact ATC as soon as the helicopter is stabilized in the climb and headed away from danger. If the appropriate frequency is not known, you should attempt to contact ATC on either very high frequency (VHF) 121.5 or ultra high frequency (UHF) 243.0. Initial information provided to ATC should be your approximate location, that inadvertent IMC has been encountered and an emergency climb has been made, your altitude, amount of flight time remaining (fuel state), and number of persons on board. You should then request a vector to either VFR weather conditions or to the nearest suitable airport/heliport that conditions will support a successful approach. If unable to contact ATC and a transponder code has not been previously established with ATC for inadvertent IMC, change the transponder code to 7700.
A radio altimeter is a necessity for alerting the pilot when inadvertently going below the minimum altitude. Barometric altimeters are subject to inaccuracies that become important in helicopter IFR operations, especially in cold temperatures.
AC 150/5390-2, Heliport Design, provides recommendations for heliport design to support non-precision, approach with vertical guidance (APV), and precision approaches to a heliport. When a heliport does not meet the criteria of AC 150/5390-2, FAA Order 8260.42, United States Standard for Helicopter Area Navigation (RNAV), requires that an instrument approach be published as a Special procedure with annotations that special aircrew qualifications are required to fly the procedure. Currently, there are no operational civil IFR heliports in the U.S., although the U.S. military has some non-precision and precision approach procedures to IFR heliports.