The FAA has granted the emergency medical service pilots of ShandsCair approval to conduct low-visibility landings at five helipads in north and north central Florida using global positioning system approaches.
"We started working on this with Satellite Tech International three years ago," said lead pilot Mark Womack, one of the four pilots contracted to the hospital by Air Methods. "Basically, it’s an FAA-certified GPS point-in-space approach that lets us land and depart in bad weather. We’re the only ones with the system in the southeast Unites States, and I think one of only three [EMS operations] out of 30 in Florida able to fly in IFR conditions."
ShandsCair is the air medical section of Shand’s Teaching Hospital and Clinics Inc. It operates its own AgustaWestland AW109 Power in and out of four affiliated facilities, as well as a remote landing zone at the intersection of routes I-10 and I-75 in Florida. Prior to receiving FAA approval, pilots had to divert to nearby airports with ILS approaches when the notoriously fast-moving storms that the region is known for pushed through. According to Womack, that caused delays in getting their patients to the hospital.
Once the system was tested and demonstrated to the satisfaction of the FAA, Air Methods conducted its own review of the procedure, giving the pilots final in-house permission to fly them.