If a helicopter is flying an IFR flight plan, and the airspace around the destination is busy, will controllers tell them to fly holding patterns just like planes do? Or will they hover at the holding fix? Or something else entirely?


3 Answers 3


In short, yes, helicopters fly procedure turns, hold, etc. just like airplanes.

Hovering at a fix is not practical, as they do not really have the nav capability to perform that, and it is contrary to normal ATC procedures.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ It would also use more gas, not less. :) $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 15:11
  • $\begingroup$ AND have more flight risk. $\endgroup$
    – mongo
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 15:27
  • $\begingroup$ I wonder what airships do as they can hover stationary without the fuel issue $\endgroup$
    – Steve Kuo
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 21:22
  • $\begingroup$ Station keeping is an issue with an airship (they can't go sideways, and most of them backwards. The instances I know of they fly the same as aircraft. But they have ice issues, and usually travel VFR, at least the ones I have worked with. $\endgroup$
    – mongo
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 22:53

Indeed helicopters can be put on holding during IFR.

ICAO DOC 8168 VOL II (PANS-OPS) has helicopter specifics in Section 4 Chapter 1 HOLDING CRITERIA: Helicopter timing. The outbound timing should be:

a) one minute up to and including 1 830 m (6 000 ft); and

b) Category A fixed-wing aeroplane criteria above 1 830 m (6 000 ft).

Also Table II-4-1-2. Airspeeds for holding area construction specifies that for

Helicopters up to 1 830 m(6 000 ft) inclusive

airspeed is

185 km/h (100 kt)

under normal (non turbulent) conditions.

From the above, we can conclude that timing and airspeed equals flying the pattern and not hover the point.


A. A helicopter uses a LOT more fuel hovering than it does in forward flight.

B. ATC are used to seeing their radar blips moving, so having the helicopter keep on moving complies with radar's expectations.


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