How Helicopter Operators Can Use Weather Data to Make Smarter Flight Decisions

Helicopter operators are no strangers to reacting at a moment’s notice. For air ambulance and rescue services, lives depend on fast responses. Operations centers must make urgent calls to get flights airborne as soon as possible, to respond to situations. However, also ensuring safety and protecting both passengers and crew from danger is a tough balance.

One of the most significant variables for operators is the weather. A study by the University of Sheffield in the UK found that air ambulance helicopters are offline between 5% – 10% of scheduled flying time, primarily due to the weather. Without much notice for when flights are needed, planning for ideal flying conditions isn’t possible or practical – decisions need making based on the conditions at the time.

Outside of emergency and rescue situations, rapid response is not such a high priority. However, helicopter flights for tourism, leisure, and travel also follow strict safety procedures to keep passengers safe. The weather conditions affecting safety can change at a moment’s notice, meaning operators need the tools to support real-time decision making, ensuring they can react if conditions threaten safety.

High-profile incidents of helicopter crashes show the tragic impact of what happens when flights go wrong. Yet helicopters remain a safe way to travel – so long as operators have the tools in place to support smart decision making.  Crashes in Europe declined from 103 in 2013, with 25 fatalities, to 43 in 2017, with 11 fatalities, showing clear improvements. But maintaining safety is a constant battle. Without accurate weather data to hand, it remains challenging.

The risks of unforeseen weather conditions

In 2016, a study released by the International Helicopter Safety Team revealed 18% of commercial helicopter accidents are caused by misjudging the weather conditions Real-time insights into weather conditions are crucial for safer fights. In high-pressure situations, which need fast decision making, understanding the likely impact of current weather conditions is essential.

Helicopters have different go/no-go weather conditions compared to other aviation categories. Wind, thunderstorms, and poor visibility affect helicopters differently to general aviation. Helicopter flights require specific weather forecasts that cover lower altitudes. Without due consideration to harsh weather, including poor visibility, high winds, and thunderstorms, it can lead to damaged equipment, reduced flight hours, and also injury or even death.

Make smart decisions about your flights, fast

Operators don’t need to be at the mercy of the weather. If everyone involved in operational decisions (including pilots, communications centers, and dispatchers) accesses the same weather data, it streamlines decision-making.

Helicopter pilots often get the call and need to be in the air within minutes. But even under extreme time pressures, making flight safety decisions can be simplified. A single source of truth means there’s no time lost by going to multiple websites and other sources of forecasts and observations. It’s ready to hand and integrated into your operations.

Streamlining the process is why a single source of truth for weather data is so essential, so pilots, ground crew, and dispatch teams are all making decisions based on the same information.

Maximize operational efficiency through more accurate insight

Precise, automated alerts received in real-time, help operators to make effective decisions – especially with parameters based on custom weather criteria and specific aircraft.

Accurate weather insights support considerable cost savings by helping reduce flight times and minimize significant route changes or flight delays. They can also help maximize revenues by keeping schedules on track and reducing the number of canceled flights due to bad weather. While some cancellations are unavoidable, a high-quality suite of weather forecast services can significantly reduce unnecessary cancellations through more accurate, targeted insights.

Only comprehensive, accurate, real-time weather information can support helicopter service operational efficiency and the go/no-go decisions that ensure safety. Read the white paper – Complete Weather Intelligence for Helicopter Safety from DTN