HAI’s petition to allow helicopter air ambulance (HAA) operations despite potential radio altimeter disruptions by 5G C band deployment was partially approved by the FAA in mid-January 2022. The exemption sought relief from regulations requiring a normally functioning radio altimeter for certain operations.
The exemption allows Part 119 certificate holders authorized to conduct HAA operations under Part 135, subpart L, to continue Part 135 helicopter operations while employing radar altimeters that may not function normally due to 5G C band interference. The relief also allows HAAs to use night-vision goggles (NVG).
The exemptions are contingent on specific conditions and limitations. All pilots conducting operations under the exemption are required to receive and maintain a record of proper training. Additionally, NVG operations require the installation of a movable searchlight, and pilots or crew members must establish radio contact with ground personnel at a landing site to receive and confirm a description of the landing site.
“This exemption will allow HAA operators to continue to do what they do best—save lives,” says James Viola, president and CEO of HAI. “There is no question that it is in the public interest for these lifesaving operations to continue. HAI’s top priority will always be safety, and we will continue to work with the FAA to determine the best solutions, whether through exemptions or through alternative methods of compliance, to provide all our members with the means for continued safe operation.”
With the support of HAI member air medical operators, the Air Medical Operators Association, and the Association of Air Medical Services, HAI submitted the petition in late October. The petition sought to mitigate the safety risks imposed on helicopter operations by telecom companies’ deployment of new 5G communication equipment that overlaps frequencies used by aircraft radar altimeters. To preserve the safety of the National Airspace System, the FAA issued Airworthiness Directive 2021-23-13 in December, followed by an unprecedented number of Notices to Air Missions on Jan. 13, 2022.
“This is a significant victory not only for HAA operators but for the countless communities and hospital networks that would have been deprived of the critical lifesaving support that can only be offered by helicopter operations,” says John Shea, director of Government Affairs at HAI. “While this is great news for the HAA sector, the even bigger story is that the FAA’s decision on HAI’s petition has outlined a path for replicating this exemption for other helicopter operations that serve the public.”