Boston MedFlight Achieves Aviation FirstNovember 24, 2015 At 5:15pm on Thursday November 19, a Boston MedFlight helicopter transporting a critically ill child safely completed the first use of an aviation instrument approach procedure to the Brigham and Women’s Hospital helipad. While this accomplishment may seem mundane, it was, in fact the culmination of a highly-complex, five-year planning, and design, certification and approval process.
Although airplanes and helicopters have been flying through the clouds and safely landing at airports for decades, the use of Global Positioning System technology has only recently allowed helicopters to land and takeoff from helipads not associated with an airport. This precision equipment has dramatically improved the safety margin for helicopters operating without being able to see the ground.
Boston MedFlight began the process to establish GPS helicopter approach and departure procedures in 2010. This multi-phase project will eventually connect outlying community hospitals with downtown Boston medical centers through a network of low altitude instrument flyways similar to the high altitude routes used continuously by airlines and corporate jets. This network of instrument flight routes and approaches will allow Boston MedFlight helicopters to remain safely clear of other aviation traffic in the Boston area, and complete patient transportation in cloudy weather with a greater safety margin. After reviewing multiple design options, the FAA certified five approach procedures in 2013. These approach procedures allow helicopters to land and depart from Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Hospital (helipad also utilized by Boston Children’s Hospital), Boston Medical Center and Tufts Medical Center under marginal weather conditions.
Before final approval for use of the procedures could be received, the FAA required extensive training and coordination between Boston MedFlight pilots, Boston Approach and Boston Logan Tower air traffic controllers. This was achieved over a one year period.
Boston MedFlight CEO, Dr. Suzanne Wedel commented: “New England weather can be hazardous and largely unpredictable. This new instrument approach technology will allow us to more safely complete those transports that are within our capabilities. We are thrilled to have this new capability in our toolbox.”