According to a recent survey conducted by EASA, more than 85 European aerodromes have a surface heliport. At these airports, heliports are often of crucial importance, as used by governmental representatives, emergency medical services (HEMS), military and special forces, as well as to support general aviation and to improve air connectivity within the region.
As of today, the planning of heliports is regulated by ICAO Annex 14, Volume 2 – and its national implementation, which may differ among countries. In Europe, aiming toward a more harmonized approach, EASA published a Notice for Proposed Amendment 2017-14 (NPA) – “Certification specifications and guidance material for the design of surface-level VFR heliports located at aerodromes that fall under the scope of Regulation (EC) 216/2008” – which is planned to come into force in first quarter of 2018. This new regulation, once applied, will make aerodrome operators responsible for demonstrating and ensuring compliance of heliports located at airports with the applicable requirements – as for Certification Specifications (CS) and Guidance Material (GM).
A major European Airport, facing the necessity to relocate and expand its existing heliport, commissioned airsight to conduct a selection study for the new site and develop a first master plan and operational concept for the new main facilities – in-line with the upcoming EASA requirements.
airsight conducted in the last few years many heliport-related projects, including for clients such as Luxembourg or Dubai airports, and used for these complex projects its combined expertise in planning both airports and heliports, and knowledge of the applicable technical specifications:
As basic principle for this exercise, a heliport should always be located and designed based on future users’ requirements, i.e. helicopter characteristics, performance, operations (IFR/VFR, day/night, winter, take-off and landing procedures: helipad / clear / short field / confined heliport), Helicopter Flight Manuals (HFM) and expected traffic volumes. Whereas a heliport is often requested to be situated near existing infrastructures, such as terminal buildings, it shall at the same time comply with numerous infrastructural operational requirements.
The core element of a heliport – and most difficult to design – is its Final Approach and Take-Off Area (FATO). It means “a defined area over which the final phase of the approach manoeuvre to hover or landing is completed and from which the take-off manoeuvre is commenced” (ICAO Annex 14, Vol 2 and EASA NPA 2017-14). A FATO should, amongst other, minimize the influence of the surrounding environment including turbulence (i.e. aircraft jet-blast or building-induced), protect other users from rotor downwash, have a bearing strength sufficient to accommodate a rejected take-off by helicopter, have a mean slope in any direction which should not exceed 3 per cent and provide sufficient drainage. A FATO generally includes a Touchdown and Lift-Off Areas (TLOF), as well as a surrounding Safety Area. This area, often neglected at existing heliports, has for objective to protect further the FATO – notably against obstacles (like a runway strip protects the runway).
Further to be considered are the helicopter taxiways and taxi-routes, the stands, the obstacle limitation surfaces as well as visual aids (e.g. wind direction indicators, markings, lights and markers).
Designing a FATO is therefore a complex iterative exercise, notably at large international airports where space is a scarce resource and any impact on runway and taxiway operations should be minimised.
The design proposed by airsight was developed in close coordination with the client and involved stakeholders, including current and future helicopter operators, air traffic control services, and other related departments.
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About EASA NPA 2017-14 – “Certification specifications and guidance material for the design of surface-level VFR heliports located at aerodromes that fall under the scope of Regulation (EC) 216/2008 (CS-HPT-DSN - Issue 1)”
The objective of this NPA is to introduce certification specifications (CS) and guidance material (GM) mostly in accordance with the ICAO Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs) included in ICAO Annex 14, Aerodromes Volume II, Heliports, Fourth Edition (Including Amendment 7) and best industry practices.
According to airsight as well as many other experts’ opinion, the new certification of heliports according to EASA regulations will undoubtedly bring many benefits. Nevertheless, it is well-known that many heliports yet do not meet the latest ICAO SARPs, partially due to the non-systematic transposition of the latest Annex 14 Volume II versions and amendments.
This situation will typically affect German airports. In Germany, heliports are still today governed by regulations dating from 2005, and consequently based on ICAO Annex 14 Volume II Second Edition (1995). While some airports may have proactively considered the Third and Fourth Edition of this Annex, many are not yet compliant – or not aware of potential non-conformities: a short look with Google Earth at some major airports regrettably confirms this assumption.
The introduction of the new EASA aerodrome regulations will represent a major change, as aerodrome operators will be required to demonstrate compliance to the responsible authorities.
Aerodromes within the scope of the regulation should therefore be prepared to the paradigm shift, and conduct a gap-analysis to anticipate possible investments to ensure compliance – or to develop alternative means to adhere with the rules.