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Here's Your Sign!

Posted 14 years 18 days ago ago by Admin

By Rex J Alexander - Warning and caution signs that every heliport should have to enhance safety and reduce liability.


Ever since the first helicopter landed and took off from a heliport, we as an industry have worked hard to make the heliport environment as safe as possible.  Whether it is obstruction lighting to illuminate surrounding hazards, a safety net surrounding an elevated heliport, or a windsock to indicate the wind direction, many organizations have done everything feasible to insure safety at their heliports.


No admittance sign

Figure 1


There are two primary guides utilized in the United States for heliport safety information and guidance for land based heliports.  The first publication is the FAA/DOT advisory circular, AC-150/5390-2B, Heliport Design Guide, which can be downloaded from the FAA’s web site http://www.faa.gov .  The other publication on heliport safety that should always be consulted is the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Standard for Heliports, NFPA-418, which can be found on the NFPA web site http://www.nfpa.org. These two documents are the standards by which we in the United States measure all heliports.


However, an area that is not discussed in either of the above publications in any great detail is what additional signage should be incorporated at a heliport to reduce liability for the facility and enhance safety for the general public. 


No Smoking sign

 Fig. 2


The only mention of any sign in AC 150/530-2B is primarily directed at flight crews and passengers. An excerpt from chapter 2.12 (a) 3 says: “Access to airside areas should be through controlled and/or locked gates and doors. Gates and doors should display a cautionary sign similar to that illustrated in Figure 2-29” (See Fig. 3).  In NFPA-418, the only directive spelled out is in section 4.6.6 which states, “NO SMOKING signs shall be erected at access/egress points to the heliport”.  These two examples, however, do not address the hidden safety hazards that may exist on and around a heliport which may impact the safety of the general public.


Fig. 3


One of the primary objectives for any heliport at any location must be the safety of everyone with access to the vicinity of the heliport, regardless of whether or not they are associated with the facility or the air medical transport operation. To this end it is critical to insure that the general public is informed of the hidden hazards associated with a heliport and with helicopter operations.  Hazards that should be communicated to the public include, but are not limited to, the high winds associated with a helicopters rotor system, high noise levels, and possible flying debris. Due to the flammable materials associated with every helicopter, a restriction on smoking is required and any other security restrictions must be clearly communicated to the unsuspecting public.


Wear Protective Equipment

Fig. 4


In the event that an incident does occur involving the general public where none of the warning or caution signs listed above are in place, the liability for any subsequent personal injury or property damage will generally fall to the owner of the facility and the operator of the helicopter.  This has been the case in several actual court cases.  Judges and juries have found for the plaintiffs in several of these cases, citing a lack of due diligence in alerting the public to the hidden hazards surrounding a heliport.


One particular problem that has been identified in the industry is that, while there are signs currently on the market that addresses many of the hazards listed, there have been few, if any, that meet the current Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) requirements for clearly identifying the hidden hazards associated with the heliport environment.


It was for this reason that the National EMS Pilots Association (NEMSPA) initiated their “Heliport Safety Sign Campaign” at the Air Medical Transport Conference in San Jose, California in October of 2009.  The primary goal of this campaign is to educate facilities with a heliport regarding what signs they should utilize to enhance safety and reduce liability at each of these locations.  And, at the risk of this article sounding like a prolonged advertisement, the secondary goal was to design, manufacture and distribute a heliport safety sign to the industry that will be both effective and in compliance with the current OSHA/ANSI standards for safety signs.  In collaboration with the FAA, DOT, insurance underwriters, safety directors, pilots and helicopter operators, NEMSPA has designed this sign to help fill this void.


Warning Helicopter Landing Area Sign

Fig. 5


The sign shown above in figure-5 is the result of several months of work and research by a variety of agencies and individuals to provide a design that will help enhance safety for everyone.  This new sign is meant to help protect the interests of facilities with heliports and to protect the public that we serve.  For more information on this sign go to the NEMSPA web site at http://www.nemspa.org, and look for the sign.


In addition to the warning signs for flight crews and passengers listed in the FAA Advisory Circular, in order to be compliant with the requirements of OSHA and the NFPA, the following additional signs should be installed at every active heliport:


Helicopter Warning Sign (Fig. 5)

Authorized Personnel Only (Fig. 1)

Eye Protection Required (Fig. 4)

Hearing Protection Required (Fig. 4)

No Smoking Within 50 Feet (Fig. 2)


Other safety and warning signs that may apply depending on what available facilities and assets are collocated at a given heliport, may be:


Oxygen Warning Sign

Fuel Warning Sign

Video Surveillance Sign


Video Surveillance Sign

Fig. 6


Proper placement of signs is just as critical to safety as the sign itself. Installing any sign in such a way as to introduce a hazard into the heliport environment could have catastrophic consequences.  Signs must be located in such a way as to be visible to everyone but should never be place in such a fashion as to infringe on the safe operations of the helicopter.  Signs should never be located near the TLOF (Touchdown and Lift-Off Area) or inside the FATO (Final Approach and Takeoff Area) or the safety area surrounding a heliport, unless they are securely fastened to a perimeter fence that meets the guidance of the advisory circular for heliports.  Signs should also never be placed on tall vertical poles in close proximity of a heliport.  Any object placed in the vicinity of a heliport must adhere to the strict guidance on what constitutes a “hazard to navigable airspace” as specified in Advisory Circulars AC 150/5390-2B Heliport Design and AC 70/7460-2K Proposed Construction or Alteration of Objects that May Affect the Navigable Airspace.  You should also consult your local and state building codes for additional restrictions and or requirements.


For additional information and education concerning heliport design, operations and safety, visit the NEMSPA web site at   http://www.nemspa.org and view the online presentation on heliport safety and design located under the Training and Safety Resources link.


Rex Alexander has been involved in aviation for 34 years. He has flown helicopters for the past 24, with the past 16 in the HEMS industry.  He serves on the Board of Directors of the National EMS Pilots Association, is a member of the HAI heliport committee, the NFPA-418 “Standards for Heliports” committee and is currently employed by Omniflight Helicopters Inc. as the Regional Operations Manager for the Central United States.