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Helicopter Rules That Differ From Airplanes

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Since there is a huge lack of training material for helicopter pilots to get their instrument rating, I’ve written this page to solve that problem.  On this page, I try to lay out the differences discussed in the AIM and FAR Part 91 as it applies to helicopters.

§ 91.119   Minimum safe altitudes: General

Helicopters may be operated at less than the minimums prescribed in paragraph (b) or (c) of this section if the operation is conducted without hazard to persons or property on the surface.  Paragraph B states that an aircraft must maintain an altitude of 1,000 feet above the highest obstacle within a horizontal radius of 2,000 feet of the aircraft in congested areas.  Paragraph C states that an aircraft must maintain an altitude of 500 feet above the surface in non-congested areas.  Over open water or sparsely populated areas, an aircraft may not be operated closer than 500 feet to any person, vessel, vehicle, or structure.

§ 91.126   Operating on or in the vicinity of an airport in Class G airspace

Each pilot of a helicopter must avoid the flow of fixed-wing aircraft.  Normally, aircraft would make all turns to the left unless the airport displays approved light signals or visual markings indicating that turns should be made to the right.

§ 91.127   Operating on or in the vicinity of an airport in Class E airspace

Comply with the requirements of §91.126

§ 91.129   Operations in Class D airspace

Avoid the flow of fixed-wing aircraft, if operating a helicopter. 
Comply with all other requirements such as communication requirements with the tower.

§ 91.151   Fuel requirements for flight in VFR conditions

No person may begin a flight in a rotorcraft under VFR conditions unless (considering wind and forecast weather conditions) there is enough fuel to fly to the first point of intended landing and, assuming normal cruising speed, to fly after that for at least 20 minutes.  Other aircraft are required to have 30 minutes of fuel for day and 45 minutes of fuel for night flight.

§ 91.155   Basic VFR weather minimums

Part (b) Class G Airspace, Paragraph (1) Helicopter. A helicopter may be operated clear of clouds if operated at a speed that allows the pilot adequate opportunity to see any air traffic or obstruction in time to avoid a collision.  All other VFR weather minimums are in effect.

§ 91.157   Special VFR weather minimums

  • This part allows helicopters to fly SVFR even when flight visibility is below 1 statute mile when required for other aircraft. 
  • This part also allows helicopters to operate SVFR at night while other aircraft would have to be IFR certified with an instrument rated pilot.
  • This part allows helicopters to take off or land a helicopter even when the ground visibility is below 1 statute mile.

§ 91.167   Fuel requirements for flight in IFR conditions (Alternate Minimums)

Helicopters must complete the flight to the first airport of intended landing, then fly from that airport to the alternate airport; and then fly after that for 30 minutes at normal cruising speed.  Normally, other aircraft are required to have 45 minutes.

§ 91.169   IFR Flight Plan Requirements (Alternate Minimums)

For helicopters, at the estimated time of arrival and for 1 hour after the estimated time of arrival, the ceiling will be at least 1,000 feet above the airport elevation, or at least 400 feet above the lowest applicable approach minima, whichever is higher, and the visibility will be at least 2 statute miles.  If not, you must select an alternate in your flight plan.

That alternate must have a ceiling 200 feet above the minimum for the approach to be flown, and visibility at least 1 statute mile but never less than the minimum visibility for the approach to be flown. 

§ 91.205   Powered civil aircraft with standard category U.S. airworthiness certificates: Instrument and equipment requirements

For rotorcraft manufactured after September 16, 1992, a shoulder harness for each seat that meets the requirements of §27.2 or §29.2 of this chapter in effect on September 16, 1991.  Airplanes were required to have shoulder harnesses as of July 18, 1978.

NOTE:  All other applicable rules of Part 91 apply to helicopters. 

AIM 10-1-2. Helicopter Use of Standard Instrument Approach Procedures


Helicopter Visibility Minima

Helicopter MDA/DA

Maximum Speed Limitations

Conventional (non-Copter)

The greater of: one half the Category A visibility minima, 1/4 statute mile visibility, or 1200 RVR

As published for Category A

The helicopter may initiate the final approach segment at speeds up to the upper limit of the highest Approach Category authorized by the procedure, but must be slowed to no more than 90 KIAS at the MAP in order to apply the visibility reduction.

Copter Procedure

As published

As published

90 KIAS when on a published route/track.

GPS Copter Procedure

As published

As published

90 KIAS when on a published route or track, EXCEPT 70 KIAS when on the final approach or missed approach segment and, if annotated, in holding. Military procedures are limited to 90 KIAS for all segments.

“When a flight is proceeding incredibly well, something was forgotten.” Robert Livingston, 'Flying The Aeronca

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