Helicopter Safety in the Age of the Drone

Helicopter Safety in the Age of the Drone

July 13, 2015

The University of Chicago Aeromedical Network (UCAN), Air Methods, and several other medical-flight associations are working with the national MedEvac Foundation to present the Great American Safety Drive, a Chicago-based educational event about "Flying Safely in a Shared Space: Manned and Unmanned Aircraft."

The program will focus on growing concerns about the safety of medical helicopter flights in a time of rapid increases in unregulated and unmanned flights. It includes safety presentations, drone demonstration, medical helicopters and a tour of the new corporate-helicopter facility.

It will be held on Friday, July 17, 2015, at Vertiport Chicago, 1339 S. Wood Street, in the southwest corner of Chicago's medical district.

Invited guests include:

  • All Chicago-area medical evacuation and transport programs;
  • Emergency medical service providers, including fire, police and public safety organizations;
  • News and corporate helicopter programs, and
  • Operators of unmanned aircraft.

On June 5, 2014, the National Academy of Sciences published a committee report, "A new Era of Flight," focused on the growing prevalence of unmanned aircraft.

"There is little doubt," according to a co-chair of the committee, "that over the long run the potential benefits of advanced unmanned aircraft and other increasingly autonomous systems to civil aviation will indeed be great, but there should be equally little doubt that getting there while maintaining the safety and efficiency of the nation's civil aviation system will be no easy matter."

On February 23, 2015, the Federal Aviation Association (FAA) posted a "notice of proposed rulemaking," a first step in the effort to develop operational requirements for small unmanned aircraft systems operated for commercial purposes in the National Airspace System.

At a previous rulemaking, in 2012, the FAA decided that the existing safety code was sufficient. However, many people in the field now feel the agency vastly underestimated the proliferation and impact of the drone use, especially among the recreational/hobbyist market. The current emphasis is on how to integrate unmanned flights into civilian airspace and prohibit model aircraft operators from endangering the safety of the National Airspace System.

Proposed new rules address operational limitations, operator certification and responsibilities, and aircraft requirements. Small unmanned aircraft would be limited to daylight-only operations, confined areas of operation, and visual-line-of-sight operations.

The FAA currently prohibits small unmanned aircraft operations within five nautical miles of an airport unless the drone operator notifies the airport. Hospital heliports are also covered under this, but many hospital-based flight programs worry that this has not been clearly communicated to the small drone operators or the public. The FAA is working to correct the oversight.  

To register or for more information, call UCAN at 773-702-3222 or email UCAN.365@gmail.com. Those who intend to come to the event by helicopter should contact Vertiport Chicago at 877-902-0202 or email info@vertiportchicago.com.