Weather and Helicopters: What You Should Know Before Taking a Helicopter Ride

Flying in a helicopter, a favorite mode of transportation among the rich and famous, may seem like a dream come true. But if you’re not careful, severe weather can quickly derail your sky-high adventure into disaster. Most recently, a helicopter crash took the lives of NBA star Kobe Bryant, his daughter, Gianna, and several others on January 26th, 2020.

Chances are, the helicopter you’ll be riding falls under the private designation “general aviation.” In 2017, the National Business Aviation Association reported that weather contributes to 35 percent of general aviation accidents, and 75 percent of those crashes are fatal.

Pope and Howard, P.C. in Atlanta, GA, is an experienced personal injury law firm specializing in aviation accident. Our legal team wants you to be aware of the dangers weather poses to helicopter travel before you embark on your journey. And if you or a loved one ever becomes a victim of a weather-related helicopter accident, you should immediately call our office to talk to us about your case.

Read on for more information about the dangers of helicopters as related to weather conditions.

The Dangers of Being Up in the Clouds

You’ve probably experienced flying through clouds on a commercial airline, but doing so in a helicopter could potentially be more dangerous. This was the case in the helicopter tragedy that claimed the life of Bryant, whose pilot struggled to clear cloud coverage before crashing.

Accidents like these are enabled by the looser visual flight rules specified for helicopters in Part 91 of the Federal Aviation Regulations. A helicopter flying less than 1,200 feet above the surface merely has to fly “clear of clouds,” whereas a plane at that altitude has certain distances it must keep from them. Flying closer to cloud coverage can lead to more crashes.

Helicopters Are Cleared to Fly in Lower-Visibility Weather

Of course, conditions like rain, snow, sleet, fog, and clouds will decrease a pilot’s visibility, hindering their ability to avoid obstacles during flight. This problem especially affects helicopters since they fly at lower altitudes, with more buildings and hillsides in their way.

However, Part 91 regulations allow helicopters to fly with less visibility than other aircraft, so helicopter pilots may attempt to fly in hazardous weather. Unlike planes, helicopters can fly with under one statute mile of visibility when below 1,200 feet. As long as the precipitation or fog doesn’t reduce visibility below 1/2 statute mile, a helicopter will still be allowed to fly in the inclement weather.

Ice and Wind Especially Affect Helicopters 

Ice on the ground obviously makes landing any aircraft trickier due to the slippery surface, but ice can also cause problems for a small helicopter while still in the air. When water freezes on the helicopter’s rotors, they can become unbalanced, which may result in possibly severe vibration during flight. Plus, ice can form on the exterior or even the interior of the helicopter, especially if humidity is high.

As for wind, tailwinds, headwinds, and crosswinds will each affect a helicopter just like they would a plane: tailwinds speeding it up and headwinds and crosswinds slowing it down. But a helicopter caught in suddenly changing winds due to a storm runs the risk of losing control.

Helicopter Accident Victims Should Call Pope and Howard in Atlanta for Help

If you or a loved one has been a victim of a weather-related helicopter accident, contact Pope & Howard in Atlanta, GA, about your case. Our experienced aviation accident attorneys will set up a consultation at our Buckhead office to talk to you about the details of the case, damages and more, and help you determine the most beneficial next steps to take. Call 404-885-9999 today!

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