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6 Answers

What does it mean for helicopters to avoid the flow of fixed wing traffic?

Asked by: 4379 views , ,
Commercial Pilot, FAA Regulations, General Aviation, Helicopter

In most cases I understand "helicopters should avoid the flow of fixed wing traffic."   At tower controlled airports this is easy as tower often assigns a landing or takeoff clearance that is appropriate for helicopter traffic.  

However, I am wondering what exactly this means for uncontrolled airports such as class G or E.  Any recommendations for helicopters taking off or landing from smaller airports?  

What are some techniques for collision aviodance when operating with mixed helicopter/fixed-wing general aviation traffic?

I have heard to fly 700 or 500 AGL traffic pattern, or even a tighter traffic pattern.  I have also heard to cut the fixed wing traffic pattern by 90 degrees midfield at an alternate altitude, or even fly a non standard pattern on the opposite side of the field. 

Just curious if there is anything published or other methods/recommendations from all you experts out there, 

Thanks in advance!

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6 Answers

  1. Kris Kortokrax on Jul 02, 2012

    First, 91.126 (b)(2) states helicopters and powered parachutes must avoid the flow of fixed wing traffic.  It’s not optional, it’s mandatory.
    If one is flying a pattern to practice approaches, it may be done by flying opposite traffic or a lower/closer pattern.  Whatever it takes.
    When approaching or departing, we don’t normally use a runway.  We approach or depart from our landing area.
    Are you a helicopter student or just wondering how helicopters interact with fixed wing traffic?

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  2. Jonathan Silva on Jul 12, 2012

    In all of the cases where I have shared the airport with rotor-wing traffic, they have always used a right-pattern when airplanes are using left. They will also usually fly a much tighter pattern, exoecially when practing 180 autorotations. In cases where they must share the same traffic pattern, I believe there is typically a seperation of altitudes.

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  3. Thomas Vaillencourt on Jul 18, 2012

    Typical pattern altitude for airplanes is 1000′ AGL. For Helicopters it is 500′ AGL. Helicopters also will fly opposite the Airplane pattern direction. Helicopters are permitted to also fly direct to their touch down point as well as make approaches and departures directly from taxiways, ramps, or parking areas. There is no Rule on HOW helicopters must avoid fixed wing traffic, but NOT flying a left hand pattern at 1000′ AGL is typically how it is done. Towers however will very often assign pattern entry and flow as they see fit which may mean you are flying the same as the Cessna ahead of you, but will often allow a helicopter to exit the normal pattern at any piont to fly an approach directly to the requested landing point. I have also personally been assigned to fly an approach to the taxiway parallel to the active runway while an airplane simultaneously flew an approach to the active runway. Its definately cool but unnerving to see a Citation go whizzing past on short final just off your left side.

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  4. Best Answer

    David A Hatcher on Mar 25, 2013

    Well, you opened a can of worms.
    While a pilot is in training, it is good experience to execute a “traffic pattern” as part of a takeoff and landing. At this point flight time is well flight time.
    A long time ago, helicopters didn’t go very fast and therefore it regulatory that they should “avoid the flow of fixed wing traffic”. Most civilian helicopters used in training today still don’t go very fast. And they don’t have to because it is all practice. That is until you are certificated.
    At that point, either you or your employer is paying for the fuel and the time on the aircraft.
    If you want to keep your job it is a good idea to arrive at your destination, land and shut it off without wasting time. If you mess around too much your employer is losing money. Not a good idea because you will soon find yourself unemployed.
    “Avoiding the flow of fixed wing traffic” takes on a different meaning. It could very well mean that you want to land as close as possible to your destination FBO.
    If you are operating on a controlled airport, ATC will authorize your operations only from “movement areas” which will not include the ramp at your destination FBO. You could request landing directly to that ramp and if so the tower (local controller) will state the operation will be at your “own risk”.
    Keep in mind the FBO may have a specific area for helicopters to park, you may damage other aircraft or blow stuff around with the downwash and there may be obstructions you cannot see until it is too late. Again, landing or taking off from a “non-movement” area exposes the helicopter pilot in command to additional risk. If you don’t know, even if you are unsure then don’t do it.
    Ex-military pilots (especially Army) learned to fly, takeoff and land from asphalt strips that bear a strong resemblance to a runway. These guys were not “de-programmed” so to speak when they finished their training. Consequently, some think they still must land the helicopter on the runway “numbers”, and then perform an agonizing hover to wherever their destination is on the airport.
    I don’t suggest getting into an argument with anyone you are flying with, even if you are smarter.
    None of the military services have regulations that supersede the Code of Federal Regulations. Each service flying regulations require their pilots to abide by the CFR while operating in the National Airspace System of the United States. The requirement to avoid the flow of fixed wing traffic is re-stated in the Army flight regulation!
    After years and years of dealing with Army aviators, even the air traffic controllers think that the Army must land on the end of the runway. It was at Greenville-Spartanburg, I had called for landing and was within 2 miles from the airport in a UH1 and was then told to follow a 727 on 10 mile base and land on the “numbers”, caution wake turbulence. I requested to land on the taxiway adjacent the destination FBO and the controller had to think about it!
    Remember, as the pilot-in-command you are the final authority for the operation of your aircraft and the safety of your passengers. You cannot shift this responsibility to anyone else or blame it on anything else.

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  5. Justin L. on May 13, 2013

    Helicopters avoiding flow of fixed-wing traffic is covered specifically in the CFR for G and E airspace. The AIM 4-3-17, discusses VFR helicopter ops at controlled airports. It appears that the regulatory operations are reserved for G and E and that D, C, and B which say nothing specific to regulations for helicopters ops for avoiding the flow of fixed-wing traffic. It is inferred that the helicopters will do as directed by the controlling agency, but the onus is still on PIC for the safe operation of the flight.

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  6. JP on Apr 05, 2014

    Shout out to Mr Hatcher above flying into KGSP. My old stomping grounds! Must’ve been following a FEDEX 727. 🙂

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