I was watching some police programme on TV the other day, with an air chase that had the police helicopter crew on their toes; having to perform a lot of sudden maneuvers.

How do police, or HEMS (medical), helicopters communicate with ATC? I presume they get priority, but do ATC clear other traffic out of the way? Is there a comms person/navigator on-board? Do they simply "see and avoid"?

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    $\begingroup$ They would operate below controlled airspace so no need to talk to ATC unless they get close to an airport. $\endgroup$ Apr 17, 2014 at 22:28
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    $\begingroup$ @ratchetfreak The majority of the UK is very close to an airport. $\endgroup$ Jul 2, 2014 at 22:05

2 Answers 2


The exact procedures will vary locally but typically ATC will give priority to police and ambulance helicopters that operate emergency services.

If these helicopters are operating in controlled airspace, communication with ATC will be done by normal VHF radio. There is no need for a dedicated communications person, the pilot will be in contact with ATC.

Sudden manoeuvring of these flights is rarely a problem for ATC since these aircraft are operating under Visual Flight Rules.

When chasing a car, the pilot remains responsible for keeping clear of obstacles and other traffic, therefore this requires a second person to keep a look out (either on the car or the surroundings)

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    $\begingroup$ are there two radio buttons, one for aviation freqs, one for emergency services? $\endgroup$
    – rbp
    Jan 1, 2015 at 22:07
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    $\begingroup$ @rbp I assume there is a two button setup, I am not sure. I'll try and find out but this might take a while as I am not in regular contact with these crew. $\endgroup$
    – DeltaLima
    Jan 2, 2015 at 8:22
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    $\begingroup$ @rbp. Generally not. The pilots do not communicate with the emergency services. There is an observer on board, sometimes occupying the left hand seat, sometimes in the rear, who is communicating with the ground forces and operating the video recorders, IR sensors and so on. content.met.police.uk/Site/adayinthelifeofasu $\endgroup$
    – Simon
    Jan 14, 2015 at 20:49


HEMS flights are prioritised by ATC:

The Flight Category is a priority status allocated to a flight by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) designed for use with tactical handling by ATC. There are 7 categories of flight as defined in MATS Pt 1 page 1-31. They are: Category A-E; Normal flights and Category Z. The flight categories relevant to HEMS operations are:

  • Flight Category A - the highest category of flight, applies to all HEMS flights, as defined at paragraph 2.1;

  • Flight Category E - is authorised for use by an aircraft positioning for the purpose of conducting HEMS duties, eg returning to base after delivering a casualty to hospital. It is afforded priority over normal flights;

  • Flight Category Z - is authorised for flights involving the training of crews for HEMS operations.

  • $\begingroup$ perhaps they should have blues and twos on them! $\endgroup$ Dec 15, 2016 at 21:11

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