AUBURN — Officials from the LifeFlight medical helicopter service laid out proposals late Wednesday to make flying across the state safer, taking into account better visibility for pilots and easier access for air traffic controllers. .
The discussion in a virtual meeting from the service hangar at 49 White Hangar Drive at the Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport was the second of three. The first was at Sanford Seacoast Regional Airport on Tuesday and the third was at Bangor International Airport at 6:30 p.m. Thursday.
Thomas Judge, Executive Director of LifeFlight, and David Burr, Director of Operations, described the work underway to improve safety within the flight infrastructure, focusing on better visibility for pilots and easier access to air traffic controllers.
The nonprofit’s parent organizations are Northern Light Health and Central Maine Healthcare. LifeFlight aviation services are provided by a subsidiary, LifeFlight Aviation Services.
The result of a collaboration between LifeFlight, the Maine Department of Transportation, the Maine Department of Public Safety and the Federal Aviation Administration, the new flight plans take into account Maine’s complex topographic and weather characteristics.
Maine is one of the most challenging states for pilots in the United States, other than Alaska, due to the fog created by the Labrador Current, mountainous terrain and its rural landscape which accounts for more than 60% of the area of the state. It is the second most rural state, after Vermont. Pilots must often be aware of freezing levels and operate below to ensure safety to avoid ice.
The new flight plans are modeled after major state travel routes including Route 1, I-295, I-95, Route 3 and Route 9. Helicopter routes should be under the fixed-wing elevation.
According to Judge, the most crucial aspect of establishing routes is to make them as predictable as possible for air traffic control. Developing a route structure between familiar points creates predictability through aviation locations monitored in databases by the FAA.
Increased access to weather reports and updated weather monitoring equipment are major aspects of the proposed plan, which would allow pilots to adapt to the changing environment during flights.
Life Flight added 17 new weather stations statewide, bringing the total to 28, maintaining more stations than the National Weather Service.
Additionally, easier access to fuel and helipads should complement the new infrastructure and promote safer travel between hospitals and often inaccessible areas along the coast and inland in more forested areas.
“As this system grows, we’ll need to have new capabilities to be much more precise in what we’re doing,” Judge said.