NAS Implementation - Vertical Flight

Vertical Flight (VF) is a unique method of flight that has fundamental differences from traditional, fixed-wing operations. These include:

EC-135 Star Flight

Flight Dynamics – Fixed-wing aircraft land then stop, while helicopters stop then land. Helicopters fly slower, lower, and are much more flexible in regards to landing approaches; therefore, many of the rules developed for fixed-wing aircraft are not applicable to helicopters.

Operational Environment (including offshore, remote, and urban non-airport areas) - Helicopters take off from and operate in obstacle-rich and space-constrained areas, such as hospital heliports, downtown heliports, and landing areas close to other modes of transportation, such as train stations or highways. Helicopters can be much more agile than fixed-wing aircraft and consume less airspace.

Landing Facilities - Fixed-wing aircraft land on runways where the minimum instrument runway length is 3,200 feet. Helicopters, however, only need a 75 x 75
FAAS - 76A
feet landing surface. Therefore, procedures developed for runways may not work well with helicopters.

Simultaneous Non-Interfering Operations - Helicopters can fly separate approaches to landing areas at airports without slowing down traditional, fixed-wing aircraft approaches. This is important because fixed-wing aircraft approach the runway at a much greater speed than helicopters and a helicopter in the same approach path can slow down airport traffic.

Vertical flight has grown in importance in recent years due to its wider use in industry and its many public benefits. These include the vital role VF plays in public safety, emergency services, law enforcement, oil and mineral exploration, and other industrial applications.
Bell 206 and Oil Rig
For example, VF enables quick response to natural or man-made disasters by providing fast delivery of supplies to locations that are often inaccessible by other means and also provides quick transport of the injured to medical facilities.

The wider use of VF, coupled with the potential benefits of satellite-based navigation, have created a compelling opportunity for the FAA to begin implementing Global Positioning System(GPS)/Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) services for helicopter operations.

To learn more about the benefits of WAAS to vertical flight and associated FAA projects, please see our Benefits of WAAS to Helicopters fact sheet.