Helicopter Instrument Procedures (Part Four)

Copter Only Approaches to An Airport or Heliport

Pilots flying Copter SIAPs, other than GPS, may use the published minima with no reductions in visibility allowed. The maximum airspeed is 90 KIAS on any segment of the approach or missed approach. Figure 7-10 illustrates the COPTER ILS or LOC RWY 13 approach at NewYork/La Guardia (LGA) airport.

Figure 7-10. The COPTER ILS or LOC RWY 13 approach at New York/La Guardia (LGA) airport.

Figure 7-10. The COPTER ILS or LOC RWY 13 approach at New York/La Guardia (LGA) airport.

Copter ILS approaches to Category (CAT) I facilities with DAs no lower than a 200-foot HAT provide an advantage over a conventional ILS of shorter final segments and lower minimums (based on the 20:1 missed approach surface). There are also Copter approaches with minimums as low as 100-foot HAT and 1⁄4 SM visibility. Approaches with a HAT below 200 feet are annotated with the note: “Special Aircrew & Aircraft Certification Required” since the FAA must approve the helicopter and its avionics, and the flight crew must have the required experience, training, and checking.


The ground facilities (approach lighting, signal in space, hold lines, maintenance, etc.) and air traffic infrastructure for CAT II ILS approaches are required to support these procedures. The helicopter must be equipped with an AP, FD, or head up guidance system, alternate static source (or heated static source), and radio altimeter. The pilot must have at least a private pilot helicopter certificate, an instrument helicopter rating, and a type rating if the helicopter requires a type rating. Pilot experience requires the following flight times: 250 pilot in command (PIC), 100 helicopter PIC, 50 night PIC, 75 hours of actual or simulated instrument flight time, including at least 25 hours of actual or simulated instrument flight time in a helicopter or a helicopter flight simulator, and the appropriate recent experience, training and check. For Copter CAT II ILS operations below 200 feet HAT, approach deviations are limited to 1⁄4 scale of the localizer or glide slope needle. Deviations beyond that require an immediate missed approach unless the pilot has at least one of the visual references in sight and otherwise meets the requirements of 14 CFR Part 91.175(c). The reward for this effort is the ability to fly Copter ILS approaches with minima that are sometimes below the airplane CAT II minima. The procedure to apply for this certification is available from your local Flight Standards District Office (FSDO).

Copter GPS Approaches to an Airport or Heliport

Pilots flying Copter GPS or WAAS SIAPs must limit the speed to 90 KIAS on the initial and intermediate segment of the approach and to no more than 70 KIAS on the final and missed approach segments. If annotated, holding may also be limited to 90 KIAS to contain the helicopter within the small airspace provided for helicopter holding patterns.

During testing for helicopter holding, the optimum airspeed and leg length combination was determined to be 90 KIAS with a 3 NM outbound leg length. Consideration was given to the wind drift on the dead reckoning entry leg at slower speeds, the turn radius at faster airspeeds, and the ability of the helicopter in strong wind conditions to intercept the inbound course prior to the holding fix. The published minimums are to be used with no visibility reductions allowed. Figure 7-11 is an example of a Copter GPS PinS approach that allows the helicopter to fly VFR from the MAP to the heliport.

Figure 7-11. COPTER RNAV (GPS) 291° at Indianapolis Downtown Heliport.

Figure 7-11. COPTER RNAV (GPS) 291° at Indianapolis Downtown Heliport.

The final and missed approach protected airspace providing obstacle and terrain avoidance is based on 70 KIAS, with a maximum 10-knot tailwind component. It is absolutely essential that pilots adhere to the 70 KIAS limitation in procedures that include an immediate climbing and turning missed approach. Exceeding the airspeed restriction increases the turning radius significantly and can cause the helicopter to leave the missed approach protected airspace. This may result in controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) or obstacles.

If a helicopter has a VMINI greater than 70 knots, then it is not capable of conducting this type of approach. Similarly, if the autopilot in “go-around” mode climbs at a VYI greater than 70 knots, then that mode cannot be used. It is the responsibility of the pilot to determine compliance with missed approach climb gradient requirements when operating at speeds other than VY or VYI. Missed approaches that specify an “IMMEDIATE CLIMBING TURN” have no provision for a straight ahead climbing segment before turning. A straight segment results in exceeding the protected airspace limits.


Protected obstacle clearance areas and surfaces for the missed approach are established on the assumption that the missed approach is initiated at the DA point and for non-precision approaches no lower than the MDA at the MAP (normally at the threshold of the approach end of the runway). The pilot must begin the missed approach at those points. Flying beyond either point before beginning the missed approach results in flying below the protected obstacle clearance surface (OCS) and can result in a collision with an obstacle.

The missed approach segment U.S. Standard for Terminal Instrument Procedures (TERPS) criteria for all Copter approaches take advantage of the helicopter’s climb capabilities at slow airspeeds, resulting in high climb gradients. [Figure 7-12] The OCS used to evaluate the missed approach is a 20:1 inclined plane. This surface is twice as steep for the helicopter as the OCS used to evaluate the airplane missed approach segment. The helicopter climb gradient is, therefore, required to be double that of the airplane’s required missed approach climb gradient.

Figure 7-12. Obstacle clearance surface (OCS).

Figure 7-12. Obstacle clearance surface (OCS). [click image to enlarge]

A minimum climb gradient of at least 400 ft/NM is required unless a higher gradient is published on the approach chart (e.g., a helicopter with a ground speed of 70 knots is required to climb at a rate of 467 fpm (467 fpm = 70 KIAS × 400 feet per NM/60 seconds)). The advantage of using the 20:1 OCS for the helicopter missed approach segment instead of the 40:1 OCS used for the airplane is that obstacles that penetrate the 40:1 missed approach segment may not have to be considered. The result is the DA/MDA may be lower for helicopters than for other aircraft. The minimum required climb gradient of 400 ft/ NM for the helicopter in a missed approach provides 96 feet of required obstacle clearance (ROC) for each NM of flightpath.

Helicopter Approaches to VFR Heliports

Helicopter approaches to VFR heliports are normally developed either as public procedures to a PinS that may serve more than one heliport or as a special procedure to a specific VFR heliport that requires pilot training due to its unique characteristics. These approaches can be developed using very high frequency omni-directional range (VOR) or automatic direction finder (ADF), but area navigation (RNAV) using GPS is the most common system used today. RNAV using the WAAS offers the most advantages because it can provide lower approach minimums, narrower route widths to support a network of approaches, and may allow the heliport to be used as an alternate. A majority of the special procedures to a specific VFR heliport are developed in support of HAA operators and have a “Proceed Visually” segment between the MAP and the heliport. Public procedures are developed as a PinS approach with a “Proceed VFR” segment between the MAP and the landing area. These PinS “Proceed VFR” procedures specify a course and distance from the MAP to the available heliports in the area.