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Version 1
Created 03/17/2023 17:30
Last Updated 03/17/2023 21:39
by Matthew Woerly

Just as VFR operations can be more work for the local controller than IFR operations, helicopter operations can be more work that fixed wing aircraft. They are capable of hovering and vertical takeoffs and landings. However, you can also use that flexibility to your advantage!

Basic Phraseology

Helicopter operations are covered in Chapter 3 Section 11 of the 7110.65. From 3-11-2:

Issue takeoff clearances from movement areas other than active runways or in diverse directions from active runways, with additional instructions as necessary. Whenever possible, issue takeoff clearance in lieu of extended hover−taxi or air−taxi operations.

(Present position, taxiway, helipad, numbers) MAKE RIGHT/LEFT TURN FOR (direction, points of compass, heading, NAVAID radial) DEPARTURE/DEPARTURE ROUTE (number, name, or code), AVOID (aircraft/ vehicles/personnel),


REMAIN (direction) OF (active runways, parking areas, passenger terminals, etc.).

CAUTION (power lines, unlighted obstructions, trees, wake turbulence, etc.).


If takeoff is requested from non−movement areas, an area not authorized for helicopter use, or an area off the airport, and, in your judgment, the operation appears to be reasonable, use the following phraseology instead of the takeoff clearance in subparagraph a.

DEPARTURE FROM (requested location) WILL BE AT YOUR OWN RISK (additional instructions, as necessary). USE CAUTION (if applicable).

Traffic Management

Now that's all well and good but what if you have other aircraft operating in your airspace? You probably don't want to just authorize a helicopter to depart wherever and hope for the best. There are various strategies you can use to keep them separated from other aircraft.

Note: Other than same runway separation, for VFR aircraft you are working to very basic separation standards: VFR aircraft get 500 feet vertical or target resolution (or visual separation) only from IFR aircraft in Class C, and there is no VFR separation provided in Class D! However, it's good practice to make sure any aircraft that will pass close to each other are aware of each other beforehand.

There are some specific rules for separating landing/departing helicopters from each other - see 3-11 for the details.

The following examples focus on 28R traffic. The same concepts can be applied to 28L or in east flow. Traffic on the parallel runway should always be taken into account.


If you're not sure whether a helicopter is ready for immediate departure, have them advise when they're ready. This prevents them from waiting until after your departure instructions may no longer be applicable.

For a helicopter departing from the ramp, one option is to keep them clear of the traffic pattern.

Sending them north with an instruction to remain at or below 500' or so until clear of the pattern will keep them clear of downwind traffic. Just make sure the runway is clear first.

If they are headed another direction, you can instruct them to remain south of the runway 28R extended centerline. Departing east or west can keep them between both runways until they are clear of other traffic. Restrict altitude as needed.

If you have a lot of other traffic, you can always have them depart in the best direction for separation until they are clear of the Class C. Another option would be to pass under the downwind, climb to 1500' or above, and then cross midfield.

Departures remaining clear of the pattern

Helicopters can fly patterns too! If your pattern is not full, treat them just like a fixed wing aircraft and they can use the pattern to depart. Use standard VFR phraseology.

Departure using pattern


You have a helicopter inbound requesting to land at the ramp, but you already have other traffic that might be in the way. Don't panic! You can use very similar methods to get them in while avoiding your other traffic.

If you want to avoid the traffic pattern, one option is to have them pass below the downwind traffic. Just make sure the runway is clear.

If they don't need to cross the runway, you can have them remain south of the runway 28R extended centerline.

Arrivals avoiding pattern

Helicopters can fly patterns too! If your pattern is not full, treat them just like a fixed wing aircraft and they can use the pattern to arrive even if landing at the ramp. Remember that helicopters may have more agility for setting up their pattern sequence.

Arrivals using pattern