The European helicopter industry must educate operators about the benefits of Sesar, the European Union’s next-generation air traffic management (ATM) systems and procedures, if it is to derive any benefits from the system, according to several speakers at a conference on “The future of the rotorcraft sector” at Helitech.
Sesar aims to triple traffic in EU skies while improving safety tenfold, reducing the environmental impact by 10 percent per flight and halving ATM costs. Surprisingly, the helicopter industry was for some time almost invisible on Sesar’s scope. Although Sesar development began in 2008, the role of the helicopter in the program was not recognized until 2011, said Carlo Borghini, Sesar joint undertaking deputy executive director.
The fact that VFR flights, which account for a large portion of helicopter operations, will be only marginally affected may account for why many operators still see Sesar’s implications as a low priority. Nevertheless, IFR flights will be significantly affected. Moreover, safety benefits should not be ignored, said Sigmund Lockert, CHC Helicopter’s deputy manager for flight operations.
NewEHA, the European helicopter lobbying association, has identified 26 projects (out of 300 in Sesar) that are considered relevant for the rotorcraft community. For example, some helicopters will need to comply with “4D” operation requirements, meaning they will need to be able to reach a given point defined by latitude, longitude and altitude at a given time. “We need compatibility in places like Aberdeen and Stavanger [airports used by offshore oil-and-gas operators in the North Sea],” Lockert said.
Safety Improvements Expected
Lockert expects Sesar to enhance the safety of helicopter operations. First, it may help reduce the incidence of controlled flight into terrain. Low-level IFR routes may be implemented, thus allowing for safe navigation in marginal visibility. In addition, ADS-B may reduce the risk of in-flight collision. “Remote sites are becoming controllable; ADS-B creates a virtual tower,” Lockert said.
Most operators can take advantage of increased capacity brought by simultaneous non-interfering approaches and departures at airports. Many of these trajectories, which separate helicopters from fixed-wing traffic, will be available to IFR-equipped aircraft only. Those helicopters able to use them will enjoy easier airport access.
Not all operators are aware of how they can use technological progress such as Egnos, Europe’s augmented GPS, and the helicopter industry must educate them on how they can capitalize on such advances. NDBs, VORs, DMEs and ILS are too expensive for sites used exclusively by helicopters, so free satellite guidance is the solution, maintains Marc Torres, a consultant for Barcelona’s Pildo Labs and promoter of Egnos, the European counterpart of the U.S. Waas. Egnos can transform a hazardous VFR journey into a safe IFR flight, he added. It has better accuracy than GPS and provides integrity information, letting the user know whether the system is reliable.
Egnos procedures improve safety and make heliports accessible in poor visibility. The point-in-space IFR approach procedure includes a final visual segment and thus allows flight to any heliport, Torres said. In Babice, near Warsaw, Poland, a localizer performance with vertical guidance (LPV) approach has reduced minimums by 87 feet.
Carlos de la Cruz, a pilot for Spain-based Inaer (part of the Avincis group), highlighted an obstacle to wider use of Egnos procedures. Most helicopters in service need to replace part of their avionics suite for Egnos capability, he said. “The main challenge is to get the approval,” Torres said. An AgustaWestland representative confirmed the adoption of LPV procedures is too slow in Europe, an obstacle he attributed to insufficient cooperation from air traffic control organizations.