Helicopter pilots: choose your landing zones wisely, please.
As a helicopter pilot, one of the questions I get asked most often is: “Can you land anywhere?”
In most cases, the person asking the question is referring to the legality of landing anywhere — not the ability to land anywhere. Helicopters have the ability to land almost anywhere, but not every landing zone is legal. I address this in quite a bit of detail in a post titled “Finding a Legal Landing Zone” that I wrote back in 2009. The facts still apply.
Unfortunately, not everyone considers the legality — or even the safety — of a landing zone before setting down on it. This brief news piece linked to by Vertical Magazine’s Twitter account is a good example. The gist of the piece:
A Monticello man has been charged by Nassau County Police with landing a helicopter in a grassy area full of pedestrians near the Nassau Coliseum minutes before midnight on Saturday night.
Nassau Coliseum, in case you don’t know, is an indoor arena where the NY Islanders play hockey and concerts are held. I saw quite a few concerts there in my college days. And hockey games.
On the night in question, there were about 100 drunk kids, aged 14 to 18, wandering around the building when the idiot pilot — honestly, what else can I call him? — came in for a landing in his Bell 407. He had to abort one landing before succeeding on a second attempt. At least 20 pedestrians were walking in the area.
I don’t think I need to tell you how stupid this stunt was. Drunk kids in the landing zone? All it takes is for one of them to walk into the tail rotor to turn a fun night of teenage drinking (yes, I’m being sarcastic) into death and mental trauma. Even if the kids weren’t drunk — and the pilot may not have thought they were — they’re still pedestrians in a landing zone. You don’t have to be drunk to walk into a tail rotor, as evidenced here and here.
And it’s not just the tail rotor that’s dangerous. Although visibility around a helicopter is good, it isn’t 360°. The pilot could have struck a pedestrian on the way down — or even landed on one.
Sure — nothing happened in this case. But the cops came, arrested the pilot, and seized his helicopter. And I think he deserves everything he gets.
You see, irresponsible pilots who pull dangerous stunts like this make all helicopter pilots look bad. People connect his action to the group he’s a part of. Hence, all helicopter pilots are reckless individuals who would land among a crowd of drunk teenagers.
We know better. But does the public? Does the local government?
A few years back, the city of Scottsdale, AZ instituted a town ordinance prohibiting the landing of a helicopter anywhere except at an airport or approved helipad. Why? Because an idiot pilot decided it would be fun to land in a culdesac of his subdivision. Neighbors didn’t think it was such a good idea and complained. It went to the city council and they “fixed” the problem by making it illegal.
(Wickenburg has a similar ordinance, although a pilot can get permission, on a case-by-case basis, by talking to the police chief before landing. And the police chief can deny the request.)
My point: think before you land off-airport. Think about the consequences of your actions. Think about the safety of the people on the ground. Think about the potential for complaints.
And don’t be stupid.