Section 4. Helicopter Route Chart Program
- The Helicopter Route Chart Program has been established to enhance helicopter access into, egress from, and operation within high density traffic areas by depicting discrete and/or common use helicopter routes, operating zones, and, where necessary, radio frequencies. The program had been designed to improve operational safety in areas where significant helicopter operations occur, and to establish a systematic process for chart development, modification, and acquisition.
- Pilot adherence to charted helicopter routes and the recommended altitudes or flight ceilings associated with them will normally be voluntary. However, controllers may assign charted routes and altitudes and expect or request pilot compliance with them, provided such procedures are called for in specific FAA-operator Letters of Agreement, or are necessitated by traffic density and/or safety considerations; controllers also may restrict operations within designated operating zones when requested by local law enforcement officials and the restriction would not adversely affect other aircraft operations.
- Helicopter route charts are published individually, on a 56-day cycle.
Helicopter Route Charts are graphic portrayals of discrete and/or common use helicopter routes and/or operating zones located in high density traffic areas; their purpose is to facilitate helicopter pilot access into, egress from, or operation within charted areas. They generally will include associated altitude or flight ceiling information to facilitate IFR traffic avoidance and pilot adherence to minimum safe altitude requirements. The charts provide expanded, and in some cases unique, ground reference symbology to improve visual navigation.
Use the following criteria when determining the need for a new or revised helicopter route chart:
- Recommended altitudes/flight ceilings/floors must avoid restricted/military airspace requiring prior authorization or clearance to enter.
- All routes depicted on a helicopter route chart must, to the maximum extent practicable, reference ground objects that can be readily identified from the air.
- Operating zones: Airspace encompassed by a helicopter route chart must, when necessary and required by operational considerations, be divided into a sufficient number of operating zones or sectors to permit local law enforcement agencies to operate within them on an exclusive basis.
- Altitudes and flight ceilings/floors: Each segment of a helicopter route may contain recommended altitudes or flight ceilings/floors. It is the discretion of the local air traffic tower if such altitudes will be depicted, or, assigned at a later date when the pilot contacts the tower.
- Recommended altitudes/flight ceilings/floors must avoid airspace requiring prior authorization or clearance to enter.
- Care should be exercised to avoid recommending altitudes or flight ceilings/floors which could cause helicopters operating on a designated route to encounter inflight wake turbulence generated by large, fixed wing traffic.
- When altitude/flight ceiling changes are required, they should be based on a descent rate of 250-350 feet per nautical mile.
- Communications information: Each helicopter route chart must include sufficient radio communications information to permit pilot compliance with all pertinent regulatory requirements, and facilitate the acquisition and dissemination of air traffic advisory information.
- Military considerations: Avoid establishing helicopter routes or operating zones which would conflict with military ground control radar approach paths. When charting a route or operating zone which crosses or is located in close proximity to a , include communications instructions that will permit pilots to determine the status of the .
- Helicopter routes may be changed or modified whenever a new chart is updated. It is recommended that all route modifications be coordinated with operating groups in the local area.
- Helicopter route chart development: Facility air traffic managers are responsible for determining the need for chart development or revision, and for compliance with the following:
- Initial action: Facility air traffic managers who desire to establish a new route chart or revise an existing chart must establish a task force or planning group comprised of local air traffic, , military, law enforcement, and helicopter operator personnel to recommend the area of chart coverage and the paths, routes, and operating zones that will comprise it.
- Justification: All recommendations for new and/or revised charting must include justifying information that includes, as a minimum, the following information:
- Background information pertinent to chart development or revision, including the composition of the task force or planning group;
- The airspace areas and proposed routes, operating zones, and altitude/flight ceiling/floor considerations examined;
- Special VFR procedural implications;
- Task force or planning group recommendations; and
- Supporting rationale.
- Charts and description: Facility air traffic managers must provide a narrative description or drawing of the chart area, including:
- Identification of all integral routes or operating zones, with named visual checkpoints and elevations, and associated altitude or flight ceiling limitations;
- Any IFR routes that fall within the charted area;
- Procedural notes pertinent to operations within the charted area or an operating zone, and on designated routes; and
- Traffic advisory radio communications frequencies and ATC facility names associated with area, route, or zone operations.
- Chart approval: Terminal Operations Service Area Directors are responsible for reviewing and approving new or revised helicopter route chart proposals, and assuring that they comply with all prescribed criteria. However, procedural implementation may not occur until the proposal has been reviewed by System Operations Airspace and Aeronautical Information Management, and subsequently published. Consequently, managers should forward their approved packets through System Operations Airspace and Aeronautical Information Management as far in advance of the desired publication/implementation date as possible.
The publication lead times for new charts and minor chart revisions will routinely approximate 6-9 months and 3‐4 months, respectively.
- Annual review: Terminal Operations Service Area Directors are responsible for the conduct of annual reviews of existing VFR helicopter route charts to determine their accuracy and continued utility.
- Chart revisions:
- Revisions to existing helicopter route charts may be initiated by any facility air traffic manager, but can only be approved by the Terminal Operations Service Area Directors. However, to assure completion of all requisite Airspace and Rules review and publication requirements, proposals must be submitted through System Operations Airspace and Aeronautical Information Management to Airspace and Rules at least 6‐9 months or 3‐4 months (as appropriate) prior to their expected or recommended implementation date.
- The following are considered sufficient justification for a revision:
- Changes, additions, or deletions to area coverage, designated routes or operating zones, controlling agencies and/or frequencies, procedural notes, or airport/heliport/helistop status;
- Changes in IFR routes within the chart coverage area; and
- Additions or deletions to visual checkpoints.
- Publicity: Facility air traffic managers must seek the cooperation of local personnel in informing local aviation interests about the Helicopter Route Chart Program. Special emphasis should be placed on:
- The voluntary nature of pilot adherence to designated routes, operating zones, altitudes/flight ceilings, and procedural notes;
- The importance of chart use to operational safety and IFR traffic avoidance; and
- The “see and avoid” nature of operations within the chart area.