On YouTube there's a lot of aerial footage of US police pursuits to be found, usually filmed from news helicopters, flying around and doing a lot of maneuvering in the same small area, sometimes in the immediate vicinity of big airports.

Almost always there are more helicopters involved: Police and tv stations, you can sometimes see them crossing the camera view. And all of this time, essentially no one knows where things are going. The whole thing seems to me quite hazardous from an aviation point of view, maybe even more so than the proceedings on the ground.

How are these operations kept safe? Under what rules or procedures does ATC handle this kind of situations?

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Most of the video I recall are from the US, so I'd restrict this to that jurisdiction. I don't think I ever seen a "chase video" from Europe. $\endgroup$
    – Federico
    Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 7:52
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @Federico You're right, edited. In The Netherlands where I'm located these situations would probably lead to a government crisis... $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 8:12
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Federico I can't speak for other countries, but you occasionally get airborne footage from police helecopters here in the UK. You don't get News helicopters chasing off after pursuits though. $\endgroup$
    – Baldrickk
    Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 12:44
  • $\begingroup$ Under VFR pilots are responsible for their own separation $\endgroup$
    – Steve Kuo
    Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 15:35

2 Answers 2


I know about the operations of police in South Pacific Area so I will answer from that point of view not the USA as is queried.

The Air Traffic Controllers have an agreement set up between the various Police Forces and themselves. This agreement allows them to operate in a covert capacity if required. When they do this special phrases and/or special call signs are used to give them higher priority.

When something like a chase or surveillance is being carried out the police helicopters are usually operating below the control steps. If not they will talking with ATC to obtain a clearance for either to operate in an area or for particular headings. I have seen clearances be issued that say Stay North of Road X Operate Below 1500 AGL.

If Police operations bring them near an airport, the Terminal Area Controllers or Tower Controllers will separate them from the other traffic. In fact this is very safe operations.

As to do with TV helicopters they have to follow the same rules as all the other helicopters. If in controlled airspace obtain a clearance and if not operate VFR under the VFR Rules. The TV choppers would be told to get lost if they were interfering with Police choppers (Yes I have heard it happen).

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Are those police in terminal areas VFR or Special VFR? $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 9:14
  • $\begingroup$ Police will operate usually VFR but will upgrade to IFR in terminal area or if weather is marginal $\endgroup$
    – Bullfrog
    Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 9:19
  • $\begingroup$ I forgot that in the US you use more airspace classes so you do provide separation even to VFR. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 9:22

I fly daily between two small G.A. towered airports in the Los Angeles basin. There's often police and news helicopter activity within the Class D areas. The pilots stay in contact with the tower controller and explain where they'd like to go, and ATC generally approves, while coordinating with arriving and departing traffic.

In particular the approach to runway 25 at Hawthorne runs parallel to a major freeway. Occasionally there have been police and news helicopters operating up and down that freeway, right along final approach. The tower controller points them out to me as I'm approaching, and if I can call them in sight I'll just maneuver visually as necessary to avoid them. If I don't see them, they'll usually ask the helicopter to move, though I imagine if it were an urgent police situation I could be told to go around instead. Another technique they'll use is to tell the helicopter traffic to stay north of the highway and the fixed-wing traffic to stay south of it. That way you can be pretty close but still not have a collision hazard as long as everyone is paying attention.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .