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FAA issues exemption for helicopter air ambulances from 5G restrictions

After receiving a petition from the Helicopter Association International (HAI) to exempt helicopter air ambulance (HAA) operations from 5G restrictions, the FAA has partially approved the exemptions.In a statement released Friday, HAI said, "This exemption will allow Part 119 certificate holders authorized to conduct helicopter air ambulance operations under Part 135, subpart L, to continue Part 145 helicopter operations while employing radar altimeters that may not function normally due to 5G C-band interference. The relief will also allow the use of night-vision goggles in HAA operations."For pilots operating under the exemption and utilizing night-vision goggles, they must install a movable searchlight and will be required to establish radio contact with ground personnel at a landing site to receive and confirm a description of the landing site.HAI noted that Part 135 HAA operators transport over 300,000 injured or ill people annually, and approximately 40,000 to 50,000 operations occur from off-airport or unimproved areas at night."This exemption will allow HAA operators to continue to do what they do best -- save lives," said 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 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provide all our members with the means for continued safe operation."The exemption will end on January 31, 2024, unless rescinded by the FAA sooner.The petition was originally submitted by HAI in October as the deployment of 5G by Verizon and ATandamp;T was set to launch in December of 2021.After a lengthy battle, the telecommunications companies agreed to push the 5G launch date back to January 19, 2022, giving the FAA additional time to understand how equipment that overlaps with the frequencies used by aircraft radar altimeters can be mitigated.On January 13, the FAA released nearly 1,500 NOTAMs to prohibit the use of flight instruments like enhanced flight vision systems and autoland that could experience interference, preserving the level of safety of the National Airspace System."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 life-saving support that can only be offered by helicopter operations," said 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 interest."
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