For executive helipads or helipads run by a private company but not within airport airspace (tourism or shuttle helicopters for example), how do they work from a regulations standpoint?

Do pilots just contact the nearest Center frequency when taking off? Do they technically act as their own ATC or non-ATC traffic zones?


3 Answers 3


To expand somewhat on HiddenWindshield's answer:

From an ATC perspective we don't know and don't care if an airport is publically (municipally) owned, or privately-owned but public-use, or privately-owned and restricted-use. The regulations for ATC don't take that into consideration. The pilots request to fly into a given airport and ATC provides the relevant and required spacing and sequencing services without investigating further; if it turns out that the pilot didn't have permission to use the airport that's between the pilot and the airport owner, and possibly the local Flight Standards District Office.

As far as airports are concerned, there are two major categories:

  1. Towered.
  2. Non-towered.

All towered airports will reside within some form of controlled-to-the-ground airspace (at least during the hours when the tower is open). This is airspace in which some form of air traffic control is available. In all types of controlled airspace, aircraft operating under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) are provided separation between each other.1 Whether IFR aircraft are provided some type of airborne separation between them and aircraft operating under Visual Flight Rules (VFR), and whether two VFR aircraft are provided airborne separation between each other, depends on the specific class of controlled airspace.

Some non-towered airports exist in controlled airspace that extends to the ground, in order to provide better service to IFR aircraft operating there, or because they are very close to a towered airport. Many more non-towered airports exist in uncontrolled (Class G) airspace. Generally, all airspace up to at least 700' AGL (in most of the country 1200' AGL, and in certain isolated areas up to 14,500' MSL) is uncontrolled.

So as HiddenWindshield said, at many of those non-towered fields and helipads, there is no ATC service available, not even from Center (because the field exists in low-level uncontrolled airspace). Even at fields within controlled airspace, ATC will only "clear" a helicopter for landing or takeoff if they are operating on the movement area (ATC-controlled region) of a towered airport. A helicopter operating at an off-airport helipad or even on a non-movement-area ramp at the airport will be told that landing or departure will be "at their own risk," meaning it is up to the pilot to check their surroundings and ensure the safety of the operation.

1Except in Class F airspace, which the US does not have but does exist in other countries.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ In GA, and even more so with helicopters, it's perfectly possible to land in places that aren't airports at all, and which are in uncontrolled airspace. And of course take off again: I'm not including emergency landings. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented Aug 29, 2021 at 22:22

If an aircraft isn't flying in controlled airspace and is under Visual Flight Rules, then there's no requirement for the pilot to contact ATC at all. In fact, the plane doesn't even need to have a working radio onboard.

So, in that scenario, there is no ATC, and each pilot using the field just watches out for any other traffic.

  • $\begingroup$ On the other hand, there are good chances an "executive helipad" is within a busy controlled airspace, perhaps with a specific regulation. $\endgroup$
    – mins
    Commented Aug 30, 2021 at 11:45
  • $\begingroup$ @mins True, but the OP asked about helipads that are "not within airport aerospace", which I interpreted to mean "controlled airspace". $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 30, 2021 at 14:35

They function just like any other private airport. If the heliport is towered, the tower would hand departing traffic over to the appropriate departure controllers depending on the nature of the flight and the helipad’s proximity to other controlled airspace (IFR and VFR ops). If the helipad was non-towered, but lies within controlled airspace at the surface ie Class B, C, or D airspace, a helicopter pilot would contact the appropriate controller agency ASAP after departing (IFR and VFR ops). If the helipad were non towered and in Class G surface airspace, you would contact the appropriate ARTCC controller before entering nearby controlled airspace (IFR). If VFR no further action is required after departure.


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