DISCUSSION: With aviation becoming an increasingly demanding field for commercial travel, cargo, and military, often what remains overlooked are the crucial medical missions involved with emergency services. While emergency services may go unnoticed, pilots are under increased pressure to provide services under what may be a demanding environment. At the behest of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the National Weather Service (NWS) Aviation Weather Center came under increased pressure to design tools to indicate weather conditions for “short distance and low-altitude flights that are common for the Helicopter Emergency Medical Services (HEMS) community.”
The NWS indicated that after a review of the commercial HEMS accidents from January 1998 through December 2004, “revealed that controlled flight into terrain (CFIT), inadvertent flight into instrument meteorological conditions (IMC), and lack of operation control are predominant factors, particularly at night and during low visibility condition. Of the 27 fatal HEMS accidents, 21 occurred during night operations. Of the 21-night accidents, 16 of the operations originated under visual flight rules (VFR); the pilots inadvertently flew into IMC conditions, resulting in a CFIT accident.” The HEMS tool was specifically designed to service this particular community of pilots and flight services to alleviate issues of demanding environmental conditions.
The HEMS tool provides multiple fields of interest to pilots: ceiling, visibility, flight category, winds, relative humidity, temperature, icing, satellite, radar (base and composite reflectivity), Graphical AIRman’s METeorological Information (G-AIRMETs), Significant Meteorological Information (SIGMETs), Meteorological Terminal Aviation Routine Weather Reports (METARs), Terminal Aerodrome Forecasts (TAFs), and Pilot Reports (PIREPs). Within the tool, layers can be turned on and off even as more detail is introduced when zoomed in or out, additional tools within this include roads, navigational aids, airports and heliports. However, one of the most invaluable pieces to this tool is, “all 3D data including temperature, relative humidity, winds and icing potential are interpolated into AGL altitudes and can be sliced horizontally on 1000ft intervals up to 5000ft. The display includes a rolling 2-hour archive of observed data (with 15-minute intervals) and hourly forecasts out to 6 hours.”
This critical tool will undoubtedly provide a way to visualize a safer flight for pilots providing emergency medical services especially in low-altitude or short distance flights. Provided the interactive nature of the tool, is it with hopes that pilots gain increased awareness during their challenging and urgent flights.
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© 2020 Meteorologist Jessica Olsen