We laid out in last month’s report how the protection of airspace around a heliport is largely the responsibility of the heliport owner/operator. This month, we will discuss how you as the owner/operator can do that.
Make sure your heliport has been recognized by the FAA as an actual heliport. This can easily be done by checking if there is an FAA Form 5010 on file for your heliport in the FAA’s Airport Master Record Database.
There are a few ways to accomplish this. You can go to a third-party site, such as www.airnav.com, and look up your heliport to see if it exists in its system. Since it pulls information from the FAA Airport Master Record Database, this can be a quick indicator.
If you do not know the FAA heliport identifier, you will need to have the heliport’s latitude and longitude handy to plug into the airports advanced search tab. Keep in mind some heliports are incorrectly located geographically, in some cases, by more than five and 10 miles. You can also go to the website of GCR Inc., which is the third-party government contractor responsible for keeping track of 5010 data for private heliports and airports. For the most accurate data available, it is recommended you go directly to the FAA 5010 Airport Master Record site itself, and see if your information is listed there.
If you find your heliport listed, it should then have an associated FAA identifier. Check to see that all the information presented is updated and accurate. If there are inaccuracies, you can fill out and submit an updated Form-5010 for minor changes, and send that to the FAA to have your information corrected in the system. You can download a blank copy of the FAA Form 5010 from the FAA’s website. At a minimum, the FAA Form 5010 should be checked for accuracy and completeness on an annual basis.
If, on the other hand, there are major changes, like the heliport was moved more than 250 feet or from the ground to a rooftop, you will more than likely need to submit a new Notice of Landing Area Proposal, FAA Form 7480.
If you cannot find your heliport listed in any of these databases, chances are your heliport has never had an FAA airspace study conducted or the process may have never been finalized. This means there will not be a 5010 on file, and you will not have a heliport identifier and your heliport will not appear in any of the aforementioned databases or integrated navigational systems. This also means that since your heliport is not in the FAA’s system, there is no way that you or anyone else can submit a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) for it when critical safety information needs to be disseminated to pilots.
It is important to note that to have an IFR instrument procedure, the heliport must have a 5010 on file along with the prerequisite identifier. For those procedures listed as “proceed visually,” the heliport is required to meet all FAA heliport criteria as outlined in the FAA’s Heliport Design Advisory Circular AC 150/5390-2.
To get an FAA 5010 and a heliport ID, you’ll first need to request the FAA do an airspace study. To do this, you will need to complete and submit an FAA Form 7480-1, Notice of Landing Area Proposal, to the FAA requesting them to perform the study. Once they have received this information it can take anywhere from three to 12-plus months to get the study conducted and receive a favorable airspace letter from the FAA.
Once a favorable airspace letter has been issued, the FAA will send out a blank 5010 to the heliport owner to be completed, signed and returned to the FAA Airport District Office. It is only after this has been accomplished that the FAA can assign a heliport an identifier and list the heliport in their database.
Completing this final step has been shown to be one of the No. 1 failures on the part of many heliport owners in finalizing the overall process. Most hospital staff members who receive this form have no idea how to fill it out or where to send it back. For this reason, it is good practice to seek out expert assistance from an aviation professional familiar with the FAA’s requirements, processes, procedures and forms.
A hazardous practice to which some have inadvertently subscribed is requesting the FAA to not publish its 5010 information in the public domain, specifically on aviation sectional maps. This practice circumvents the ability of other pilots and drone operators to identify active heliports to avoid infringing upon that airspace.
But just because you have a 5010 on file, does not mean your airspace is protected, even if that airspace has an IFR procedure associated with it. But without a current 5010 on file, most municipalities will not recognize a heliport’s existence due to the liability exposure they might face in doing so. So without the proper documentation, it is virtually impossible for you to protect your airspace at the local level.
Options available to owners of private heliports who want to protect their airspace, as mentioned briefly in the FAA Heliport Design Advisory Circular AC 150/5390-2C, include: zoning and land-use controls; aviation/navigation easements, and state regulations and rulemaking. The intent of federal and state statutes mandating protection of airports and heliports is that local governments preserve the public’s investment in aviation facilities. They direct that this be accomplished by local governments’ land-use regulation and zoning authority.
Controls might limit selected uses or only certain types of activities within broader land-use categories. The controls might establish specific sound attenuation construction methods and techniques in building codes; provide for noise disclosure statements for the sale, rental and lease of property, or require the granting of navigation easements.
Controls may also establish the density of development, which can occur in the heliport influence area. Compatible land-use regulations are more effective when implemented before significant incompatible development exists in the heliport’s vicinity. Mitigating an existing impact usually results in significantly increased costs for implementation.
General guidance on drafting an ordinance that would limit building and object heights can be found in FAA Advisory Circular AC 150/5190-4, A Model Zoning Ordinance to Limit Height of Objects Around Airports.
A second option for protecting private-use airspace is the adoption of air rights and navigation easements. Their use is an option that can help to reserve a heliport’s supporting airspace, preventing the encroachment of nearby obstacles.
An easement is a right held by an individual to make use of the land of another for a limited purpose. Navigation easements can be a cost-effective and permanent way to control land use around heliports. Easements can be just as effective as acquiring land and can often be obtained at a much lower cost. They are preferable to zoning restrictions since they usually are permanent; zoning restrictions can be amended.
A typical easement will prevent any obstruction from being erected above the approach surface; give rights to cause noise, vibrations, fumes, dust and fuel particles; prohibit creation of electrical interference or unusual lighting, and grant right-of-entry to remove any structure or growth above the approach slope surface. Easements allow sponsors to purchase an interest in adjacent property airspace development rights that lie within the heliport’s influence zone.
The owner of an easement-encumbered property (or servient property) has restricted use of his or her property subject to the heliport sponsor’s easement (or dominant property) for overflight and other applicable restrictions on the use and development of the servient parcel.
The navigation easement on the property shall “run with the land,” and any future owner’s use of the servient parcel is also restricted as described in the navigation easement.
It is the same basic legal agreement one would use for a driveway or other easement, but it deals with a three-dimensional corridor in the air and not on the ground. The grantor of the easement in this case does not control the airspace; only the FAA is allowed to control airspace in the U.S. for the benefit of the general public.
The grantor is essentially making an agreement to not build within that space in the areas allowed by the local municipality. It is an pact to not exercise vertical development rights, which may be allowed by local zoning but would, however, hinder or limit the use of the heliport.
Through easements, sponsors are able to control land uses around the heliport, but do not incur the capital expense of acquiring the land. The landowner retains full ownership, but is limited in developing or improving the land by the easement terms and may not bring cause against the heliport owner for any named activity.
This last category is one of the more challenging, but could be one of the most bullet-proof options, if done correctly. It requires great patience and perseverance. Enacting a state regulation to help protect private-use airspace takes significant work, time, collaboration and cooperation at numerous levels.
The inclusion of all rotary-wing operators in the area must be a priority so as to avoid any unintended consequences. What might work for one segment of the industry might result in another segment going out of business. One of the most effective means in accomplishing this challenging task is to have an active state air-medical and critical-care transport association that can directly lobby state politicians on behalf of its members. The inclusion and involvement of professional aviators in all discussions and drafting of language for state laws and regulations is paramount to this option being successful.
An organization that must be sought out and involved in following this strategy is the state’s Transportation Dept., specifically the Aeronautics Division. It is this organization that will be responsible for enforcing any rulemaking that is adopted by the state’s government, so its involvement is critical to achieving any reasonable long-term success.
FAA recommendations and industry best practices for airspace protection are there for a reason and are based on a significant amount of research that supports and justifies their adoption. Just because something is not a requirement, does not mean that it should be disregarded as unnecessary or not worth incorporating. Designing and maintaining a safe heliport with unrestricted airspace is achievable, but it requires a significant amount of forethought and a proactive mindset on everyone’s part. R&WI