Memorial Hermann Life Flight Instrument Flight Rules (IFR)
Memorial Hermann Life Flight® can now conduct flights under instrument
flight rules (IFR). These flights are by reference to aircraft flight
instruments and advanced navigation systems rather than requiring visual
cues. This capability allows Life Flight crews to serve the community when
weather conditions might restrict flight under visual flight rules, or VFR.
No other helicopter flight program in Southeast Texas can offer IFR service
for all patients.
Being IFR capable, trained and equipped offers much higher levels of safety during every flight conducted by giving
crews options when un-forecast weather is encountered. Weather decisions for flight requests can be made with greater
certainty, which means more dependable service to the community and patients in need of air transport. Flight safety is
further enhanced by being in radar contact and in constant communication with Air Traffic Control (ATC). This highly
structured and tightly controlled system is why every airline flight in the United States is conducted using IFR.
Each year Life Flight misses an average of 600 patient flights due to weather. That is nearly 20 percent of the patient
flight requests that are affected. Many of these flights missed are due to cloud ceilings and visibility that do meet FAA
requirements for Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS) operations. The NTSB and FAA continue to issue more
restrictive weather, equipment and training requirements to address safety in the HEMS industry, which could eventually
include mandatory IFR flight during night operations. These rules are already in use in many European countries and the
FAA generally follows the example of the International Civil Aviation Organization, known as ICAO
in matters of flight safety.
Watch the video below to learn more about instrument flight rules (IFR).
Using IFR capability, crews can launch from select Life Flight bases and conduct instrument approach procedures
(IAPs) to most airports in Southeast Texas. Because IFR flight uses advanced GPS routing, ground-based navigation
aids and ATC radar guidance, the en route cloud heights and visibility are not limiting factors. Many flights can be
completed using a combination of VFR and IFR to expedite the response and patient transport. While every airport’s
approach procedure has different minimum weather requirements, some locations offer minimums as low as 200 foot
cloud ceilings and ¼ mile visibility. In the near future, Life Flight will have several FAA certified, proprietary helicopter
GPS procedures to and from hospitals in the Greater Houston area, as well as select heliports in the community for even
greater service capability.
The Life Flight fleet consists of six, Airbus EC-145 helicopters that are IFR certified, equipped for single-pilot operation,
and boast some of the finest avionics available. These helicopters have dual autopilots, weather radar, dual GPS units, 3
X color moving-map displays, terrain and obstacle warning systems, traffic avoidance systems and XM satellite aviation
weather. Every system on each Life Flight aircraft has a backup and some of the avionics and flight instruments have
two backups. The helicopters are capable of flying instrument approaches directly to runways at a height of 50 feet while
coupled to the autopilot system.
Pilots at Life Flight undergo a rigorous training program to be certified for IFR service. The didactic and practical
portions of the IFR training curriculum take approximately one month to complete and involve meeting the most
challenging standards in aviation. Each training flight is conducted with numerous instrument takeoffs, approaches and
emergency simulations. Line Oriented Flight Training, or LOFT, scenario-based training, and hands-on flight operations
are used extensively to ensure that Life Flight aviators are unflappable, proficient and exacting. All of the flight training is
in the actual helicopter and flying in the Southeast Texas airspace for thorough familiarization.
With this new capability, Life Flight continues its tradition of innovation in the helicopter EMS industry. The service
will be more available, more dependable and serve the community with greater safety due to IFR. Life Flight will be able
to respond to more requests and with fewer weather aborts than in the past. While IFR is not possible in all cases, it is a
significant factor that contributes to safer operation and will expand the scope of practice as a community service and the
value of Life Flight for colleagues in emergency services and the healthcare fields.
In honor of its founder and medical director, James “Red” Duke, M.D., Life Flight applied for and was assigned a
worldwide call-sign of “Red Duke.” All communications with Air Traffic Control while on IFR flights now uses the “Red
Thank you for your continued support and for working with Life Flight as a team to bring the highest level of care to
patients in Southeast Texas.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some of the common questions regarding IFR and the new capability:
- Can Life Flight fly in all weather?
Answer - No. While IFR allows flights when weather might prevent VFR flight due to cloud height and decreased
visibility, flights are limited during thunderstorms, icing conditions and extremely low visibility (fog).
- How can EMS use Life Flight for scene calls?
Answer - Many locations where Life Flight routinely responds are near airports that would allow a rendezvous with
EMS. During the request for Life Flight, Communications personnel will advise EMS if a meeting at a nearby airport
would be required.
- Does it take longer to respond for flights using IFR?
Answer - It may add some time to the liftoff due to flight plan filing, and more detailed run-up procedures, but that time
can often be made up en route since IFR allows for high speed flight above low weather conditions.
- Will Life Flight be able to communicate with ground crews while on IFR flights?
Answer - Yes. The medical team will handle all communications with hospitals, EMS, fire, and law enforcement during
flights conducted IFR. The pilot will be focused on air traffic control communications.
- What airports can be used to meet Life Flight in case of low weather conditions?
Answer - There are dozens of IFR-capable airport locations throughout Southeast Texas. See the list below.
IFR Airports in Southeast Texas
Memorial Hermann Life Flight is CAMTS Certified, Part 135 Certificate, Memorial Hermann Hospital System GVNA529E, TX 101025
Angelina County - Angelina County Airport in Lufkin
Brazoria - Texas Gulf Coast Regional Airport (Angleton/Lake Jackson)
Brazos - Easterwood Field (College Station) & Coulter Field (Bryan)
Burleson - Caldwell Municipal Airport
Calhoun - Calhoun County Sirport (Port Lavaca)
Chambers - Chambers County Airport (Anahuac)
Colorado - Eagle Lake Airport
Dewitt - Yoakum Municipal Airport
Fayette - La Grange/Fayette Regional Air Center (La Grange)
Fort Bend - Sugar Land
Galveston - Scholes International (Galveston)
Hardin - Hawthorne Field (Kountze)
Harris - Numerous (Tomball, Baytown, LaPorte, Houston has five airports)
Houston - Houston County Airport (Crockett)
Jasper - Jasper County Airport (Crockett)
Jefferson - Beaumont Municipal & Jack Brooks Regional (Port Arthur)
Lee - Giddings-Lee County (Giddings)
Liberty - Liberty Municipal & Cleveland Municipal Airports
Madison - Madisonville Municipal Airport
Matagorda - Bay City Municipal Airport & Palacios Municipal Airport
Montgomery - Lone Star Executive Airport (Conroe)
Navasota - Navasota Municipal Airport
Nacogdoches County - Mangham Regional Airport, Nacogdoches
Orange - Orange County Airport (Orange)
Polk - Livingston Municipal Airport
Robertson - Hearne Municipal Airport
Victoria - Victoria Regional Airport
Walker - Huntsville Municipal Airport
Waller - Houston Executive Airport (Brookshire/Houston)
Washington - Brenham Municipal Airport
Wharton - Wahrton Regional Airport