Beginning of last year, the KY252 pilot project was launched to allow Rega, Swiss HEMS operator, the Swiss Airforce and FOCA, the Swiss authority, helicopter IFR operations without ATC.
The Low Flight Network (LFN) route KY252 between the Ticino in the South and Central Switzerland over the Alps connects the medical infrastructures on both sides. In order to support the medical facilities to cope with the Covid-19 pandemic, this route needed to become available for patient transfers 24 hours, 7 days a week. From 19.00-07.30 the KY252 route, together with the terminal procedures of the military airport Emmen and the hospital of Lucerne, was made available for IFR operations without ATC.
For this purpose the L-Space, an airspace where the same flight rules like within uncontrolled airspace Class G apply, has been defined around these procedures, where only approved IFR traffic is allowed. The flight crew, following the “one at a time” concept, reserves the required “LFN sectors” to ensure, that no other traffic uses the procedures. Standard flight plan filing is required to ensure the general ATS awareness and availability of alert services.
The trial started in August 2020 to prototype the concept allowing certified users to fly defined IFR procedures without normal ATC guidance and control. This concept can be used for enroute segments or at landing locations/airports outside their standard operating hours. This ensures a H24/7 flight operation with respect to medical or patient flights (HEMS), Search and Rescue (SAR) or military (MIL) flights.
Rega might take off at Lugano or Locarno airport, join the LFN and L-Space and transport a patient to the Lucerne hospital independent of the availability of ATC service. When landed the pilot closes the flight plan and therefore informs about his safe landing.
Initially, many colleagues were skeptical about the L-Space and this new approach to allow IFR operation for helicopters without being controlled by ATC. However, the energy and support of all involved parties from the flight operators to the Civil Aviation Authority and the ATC made the KY252 pilot project a success.
The positive experience and feedback from all the participants led to the approval from FOCA to use the concept as a stand process and operation from 1st of February 2021. It can now be re-used for other procedures and airports. Of course, we will, as we continue to learn, improve the operation, processes and tools.
The next step follows end of February, when the departure and approach procedures of Berne airport and the Inselspital Berne will be made available outside the airport and ATC operating hours.
I would like to use the chance to thank all participants for their effort and this appreciable achievement.