Soaring Through the Clouds, Weather, or Not

The Safety of “Flying IFR”

Regrettably, there are certain weather conditions like thunderstorms, icing conditions and dense fog that are just unsafe to fly in.  But West Michigan Air Care does fly through rain, snow and low, thick clouds.  How?  By flying under instrument flight rules (IFR).

Air Care’s IFR capability allows our pilots to fly safely in a wider range of weather conditions than with visual flight rules (VFR) alone.  “Flying VFR” means the pilot uses the ground as a visual reference and flight acceptance is governed by specific regulations which include minimum cloud clearance, ceiling and visibility requirements.  An IFR flight, on the other hand, means the pilot can fly in the clouds with no reference to the ground or horizon. This is commonly referred to as flying “on instruments”.  

While IFR provides options regarding weather, perhaps the greatest benefit an IFR program provides is increased safety.  Instrument flight is conducted under strict air traffic control (ATC) procedures from the time the helicopter departs until it is safely on the ground. ATC provides protected airspace from terrain, obstructions and other aircraft. 

For a helicopter to be certified to conduct IFR operations, it must meet strict design and installation requirements beyond those required for VFR flight. Some of these requirements include advanced navigation and avionic systems, a stabilization and autopilot system and redundant electrical systems.  IFR pilots continually train to hone their skills both in the aircraft and in flight simulators.  This increased pilot training combined with a more technically advanced aircraft and ATC system give IFR helicopter programs like West Michigan Air Care a more capable and, more importantly, a safer program.  

West Michigan Air Care is proud to be one of the few Michigan EMS helicopter programs with the advantage of IFR capability.  This important feature allows us to assist you even when the weather looks unfavorable, so don't hesitate to call when you need us!

By Mark Brynick
Chief Pilot
West Michigan Air Care

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