Do Helicopters Need Flight Plans?

If you are interested in becoming a flight dispatcher, you will need to be familiar with some of the laws and regulations surrounding other types of aircraft. People who choose this profession will likely have to deal with airplanes, drones, and even helicopters. Becoming a well-rounded dispatcher requires that students learn what dealing with these other kinds of aircraft needs to have in their flight plans and various other regulations. This includes helicopters since these are becoming a more popular form of transportation. Do helicopters file flight plans? Sheffield School of Aeronautics, an experienced airline dispatcher school, explores further in the following article. 

Do Helicopters Need Flight Plans? 

If you plan on being a dispatcher in the United States, you will need to realize that you are bound to the regulations imposed by the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA). The FAA creates regulations for both fixed and rotary-wing aircraft. In other words, airplanes and helicopters have to abide by the same regulations. Because of these regulations, helicopter pilots need to review the type of flight that they plan on taking to see if they need to file a flight plan.


Per FAA rules, it is not necessary to file a flight plan if the flight is going to be using visual flight rules instead of instrument flight rules. Since the majority of helicopter flights use visual flight rules, they will not need to file flight plans. Visual flight rules apply to most small aircraft. In this kind of flight planning, pilots use visual landmarks and the aircraft’s relative position to navigate and safely land the plane or helicopter.


While it is not required to file a flight plan for these types of flights, it is still recommended that pilots do so to ensure that air traffic dispatchers and controllers understand how many and which kinds of aircraft are in the air at any given time. In order to use a visual flight plan, the weather must be clear enough to see three miles in every direction. Lastly, visual flight requirements state that a flight undergoing rules of this type cannot fly over 18,000 feet. 

Helicopter Flight Plan Requirements 

When do helicopters file flight plans? As stated above, for a helicopter flight plan to be required, they will need to fly at an altitude above 18,000 feet. This altitude is generally too high for helicopters because their maximum operating altitude is generally much lower than airplanes. The higher that an aircraft is during flight, the thinner the air will be, making it much more difficult and even impossible to fly a helicopter. For this reason, helicopter pilots generally fly well below the maximum altitude needed to use a visual flight plan because it would be too dangerous for them to fly any higher.


However, if the weather is not clear enough to use a visual flight plan, they will need to use an instrumental flight plan since the requirements for using a visual flight plan include having clear weather and visibility. Because most helicopters do not operate in weather conditions that are not nearly perfect, this is not much of a consideration. 


Lastly, in order for a helicopter to be required to use a flight plan, the helicopter will need to fly within sixty nautical miles of Washington, D.C. A helicopter that does not file a flight plan when they are this close to the nation’s capital runs the risk of getting pursued by the Air Force and possibly spending time in federal prison. 

Do You Need Permission to Fly a Helicopter? 

To fly a helicopter recreationally, you will need a private pilot’s license. However, if you plan to make a career or earn money flying helicopters, it will be necessary for you to get a commercial pilot license. 

More About Sheffield School of Aeronautics

Sheffield School of Aeronautics is one of the most specialized and experienced aircraft dispatching schools in the United States. If you plan on working in the aviation industry as a helicopter dispatcher, helicopter flight planner, or FAA dispatcher, we are the school for you. Contact our flight dispatcher school to learn more about international flight planning and our other flight dispatcher courses.

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