The following first appeared as a Flight International leader in our 29 January 2013 issue
Helicopter operations in densely populated urban environments are usually tightly regulated. They certainly are over London but the recent helicopter accident in the city’s Vauxhall district has led local politicians to ask whether even more restriction is needed.
In the Vauxhall accident the aircraft was destroyed, the pilot killed, and one person on the ground died – hit by wreckage. Given that the casualty toll could have been greater if the wreckage had fallen a short distance from where it did, it is inevitable that a review of the status quo should take place, but that will happen anyway through the Air Accident Investigation Branch’s inquiry.
Most helicopter operations over London are in transit, as the accident flight was until the pilot began to change his plans and head for Battersea heliport. The fact Battersea is the only permitted heliport in one of the world’s great cities speaks volumes about London’s cautious attitude toward rotary-wing access. Existing requirements on helicopter routeings, aircraft performance, and air traffic control clearance already constitute tight regulatory control.
This accident, whatever else emerges, was primarily the result of the marginal visibility and pilot judgement on whether it was safe to continue. It is the only fatal helicopter crash London has suffered, and no reason on its own to further restrict rotary-wing access.