LIFE FLIGHT lands on a school parking lot in Crosby

CROSBY– Harris County E.S.D. 5, the local ambulance service, Harris County E.S.D. 80, Crosby Volunteer Fire Department and Life Flight are working to put together a joint project in three phases that would provide greater ability to bring helicopter rescue flights to this area.

Both ESD’s have approved this project to begin development effective Feb. 27, 2014.

Phase 1 of the project is the survey and building of a probable 100 x 100 foot helicopter pad to be maintained at the Crosby Vol. Fire Station 1 on U.S. Hwy 90. This will allow not only one but possibly two helicopters if needed be able to land without obstructing traffic and providing a safe area to do so.

This phase is where the largest problem was encountered yet by E.S.D. 80 as the contractor estimate came in many times the amount expected. According to Randy Foster, board member, the architect of the project asked the contractor rhetorically if that estimate also included a helicopter. E.S.D. 80’s board recognizes that currently, Crosby Volunteer Fire Dept. lands vehicles on ordinary roadways and concrete parking lots so many on the board believe that proposal was over specified in complexity. They expect to continue looking for the required but less costly options.

Phase 2 will be contracting a engineering firm, by Harris County ESD 5 (EMS), that will build a Global Positioning System (G.P.S.) navigated flight path from any of the base locations of Memorial Hermann Life Flight Helicopters to the pad.

Phase 3 is to train the pilots on the G.P.S. path. This flight path will allow for the pilots to fly in low weather ceilings (poor fog visibility) on instrumentation. Currently, a Life Flight to this area is performed under Federal Aviation Administration (F.A.A.) Visual Flight Rules (V.F.R.) V.F.R. are flown solely by reference to outside visual cues (horizon, buildings, flora, etc.) which permit navigation, orientation, and separation from terrain and other traffic. So fog, for instance, becomes a problem for safety. Typical daytime V.F.R. minimums for most airspace is 3 statute miles of flight visibility and a cloud distance of 500′ below, 1,000′ above, and 2,000′ feet horizontally. Flying by instruments to receive patients by ground ambulance crews enables Life Flight helicopters with equipment not allowed inside ambulances, like whole blood to fly more frequently and deliver improved emergency care.

Currently, Memorial Hermann Life Flight flies on visual flight rules V.F.R. . This causes several of the flights in the Crosby, Huffman, Liberty, Dayton area to be turned down due to a historically low fog shoulder from the warm Bay air mixing with the cool area in the area.

“We look at it like building a roadway in the sky.” comments Director of Operations for Harris County E.S.D.#5, the ambulance service in Crosby, Christy Graves. “We will permanently commander this air space for emergency flights, disaster evacuations or any other pre-hospital response need. The best part is there is no maintenance once we complete the building of our sky roadway.” This helicopter pad and landing site can also be used as a rendezvous location for other ambulances that need to evacuate a patient by air ambulance but has poor visibility in their response area. Crosby will be the first community to have a G.P.S. landing pad but, the Memorial Hermann Life Flight system will encourage others to also follow these emergency entities lead.

The hope is for the project to be completed by October 2014. Once completed, the local agencies estimate to recover 50% of the flights that have been turned down for bad weather conditions and initially fly as low as 500 feet with a goal of as low as 250 feet in the future.

The move is to establish a pathway for Instrument Flight Rules, (I.F.R.‚) Instrument flight rules permit an aircraft to operate in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) in contrast to V.F.R.. They are also an integral part of flying in class A airspace. “Class A” airspace exists over and near the 48 contiguous U.S. states and Alaska from 18,000 feet above mean sea level to flight level 600 (approximately 60,000 feet in altitude depending on variables such as atmospheric pressure). Flight in “class A” airspace requires pilots and aircraft to be instrument equipped and rated and to be operating under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR). Most jet aircraft operate in “class A” airspace for the cruise portion of their flight and are therefore required to utilize IFR procedures.

The main purpose of IFR is the safe operation of aircraft in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC). The weather is considered to be IMC when it does not meet the minimum requirements for visual meteorological conditions (VMC). To operate safely in IMC (“actual instrument conditions”), a pilot controls the aircraft relying on flight instruments.

The net result is to make flying by helicopter more accessible when someone is in an emergency condition.