Oh my goodness, I do not understand the lack of knowledge of the logic for use of helicopters in IFR operations among my fellow pilots. As “Fletch” said in the movie of the same name, “guys, do I have to teach you a lesson!?” Haha.
Okay gents, here’s the condensed version. And let’s use Part 135 helicopter air ambulance (HAA) operations as an example of effectively utilizing helicopters in an IFR capacity.
Bottom line, up front—-an IFR helicopter can do more flights than a VFR-only rotorcraft. Lots more. And I’ll argue, far more safely.
Here goes the basics… first off, both a VFR helo (helicopter) and an IFR helo can conduct VFR revenue flights. So far, so good on my logic, right? But next up are the additional flights you’ll capture with an IFR helo: (1) the actual IFR flights you plan and fly and (2) the “gray area” flights that may not require an IFR helo, but are often declined by prudent pilots when weather is too close to VFR minimums to safely prosecute the flight. Likewise, oftentimes, the gray area flights add up to a few flights per pilot per month (x4 pilots at a given HAA base) which results in somewhere between 4-6 flights per pilot that can be flown in VFR conditions (if desired) but when the pilot can easily pickup an IFR clearance if desired or when prudent (maybe conditions worsened or perhaps one piece of the VFR puzzle looks questionable). In any case, the additional IFR flights and “gray area” flights add up to a “bunch” of additional flights per month, a “load” of additional revenue per month, and of course altruistically speaking, a greater patient care opportunity for the residents of each IFR helicopter’s radius of action.
Speaking off the cuff, I’d wager that each SPIFR (single pilot IFR) at every base that actually has weather conditions frequently experiencing IFR weather conditions may pickup anywhere between 10-15 additional flights per month.
Of course, not every location has IFR weather very often, but that’s a scenario that is outside the scope of my argument. The thing is, SPIFR opening HAA helos results in far more flights per base in areas with actual weather conditions
Is it easy? Yes. Terribly easy. And is it fun and safe flying? You betcha. This is because SPIFR pilots are flying very well equipped IFR machines (e.g., EC135s, EC145s, etc.) and the airframes are just absolutely solid and brilliantly designed for every aspect of IFR flight.
Stability and automation in SPIFR is held at a high standard and frankly goes beyond the hurdle of safe flying to the higher level of enjoyable safe flight operations. It’s just as easy as I’m saying. Otherwise, it just wouldn’t be right or worth the hassle, expense or trouble.
How is it done? The SPIFR pilot is well trained in the helo, yes. But the methodology for SPIFR operations is kind of a key to each pilot’s success. Every SPIFR pilot becomes aquatinted with the IFR route they may need on any given instance and become intimate with every IFR departure type at every likely departure point (certainly his own base or airport), then studies every IAP (instrument approach procedure) he or she may need to execute, then starts the shift with “what can I do today? Where can I go? How can I potentially accommodate each county, city, EMS agency, fire department or hospital—that might need IFR helo services?”
Yes, it becomes that deep of a thought process. The SPIFR runs scenarios and looks at potential leg patterns (e.g., IFR departures,IAPs, transitions, fuel spots and IFR alternates). And before you think, “there’s a lot of flying you can’t do, mister”, I’ll go ahead and agree but add, there’s a lot of revenue flying that can be flown safely that would otherwise resulted in a non-flying alternative.
The point of my argument is not ‘whether or not every flight request “should fly” with respect to medical conditions’, but rather, ‘what is the mindset of HAA SPIFR operators and how it’s thought about by those who do it. It’s really just as easy as I’m telling you.
Sidebar: I’m not going to delve into the obvious increased safety factor of having IFR systems and autopilots as well as a 2nd engine to fly you away from a forced landing or continue flight with the remaining engine after one engine fails. Nope. We’ll save that argument for a different day.
But if the question is, “would an IFR helo bring my HAA company more patient care and more revenue whilst increasing the safety of my crews simultaneously, the answer is an easy— yes.
12 years SPIFR