Helicopters are used in the emergency transfer of critically ill patients. The recent expansion of the Victorian air ambulance helicopter fleet has prompted some public healthcare organisations to consider the provision of a purpose built Emergency Medical Service (EMS) helipad.
For convenience, these guidelines use the term ‘hospital’ to refer to the range of healthcare organisations and ‘hospital helipad’ to refer to the affiliated helipad which may be located on or off the hospital site. DHS or The Department denotes the Department of Human Services.
These guidelines aim to assist public healthcare organisations in the planning, development and operation of EMS helipads, either as an upgrade to their existing helicopter landing sites as well as provision of a new helipad at a hospital. The guidelines also provide guidance to the factors to be considered in consultation with the relevant landowner and the responsible authority or council.
Helipads not complying with these Guidelines may not be funded by DHS or used by Air Ambulance Victoria (AAV).
The Department of Human Services has a developed a Capital Development Process (as shown in Figure 1) to assist in the construction or redevelopment of healthcare facilities. The decision and rationale for the inclusion of a helipad in the development process occurs during the “Strategic Business Case Phase” and the “Preliminary Business Case Phase”.
Hospitals considering the development of an EMS helipad will need to complete Service and Business Plans as part of the Preliminary business case phase of the process to identify the potential benefits generated by the helipad. DHS considers that a minimum of 20 patients per year needs to be received or transferred out as a reasonable workload volume to justify consideration of a helipad onsite. Before including a helipad in a capital development process, hospitals should first determine that their caseload meets this criterion. There are a number of other factors that should be considered by hospitals in the Service and Business Plans, including:
If the Service and Business Plans support that a helipad is required, then the feasibility of providing a helipad and flightpath protection suitable for Performance Class 1 helicopter operations needs to be studied. The Helipad Feasibility Study needs to be completed as part of the Preliminary Business Case Phase.
Prior to undertaking any helipad study, the hospital and Department should have an agreed Consultant Planning Brief setting out the basis, reasoning and background for the helipad study. The following factors should be considered in a helipad study:
The consultant scope will include preparation of a feasibility study as part of a master planning process. These guidelines will address these areas in greater detail.
These guidelines set out requirements for EMS helipads and flightpaths in terms of location, spatial considerations, access, lighting, flightpath design, planning protection and operational issues in the following chapters. It is important that the hospital gives serious consideration to the proposed facility and area associated with the flightpaths as these will become a feature to be incorporated in the Master Plans and will restrict the future development opportunities for other activities such as car parks, buildings and trees, light poles, masts and aerials. The hospital, during Master Plan and Design stages, will need to consider:
It is recommended that when considering planning and development of helipads and associated fightpaths etc, the hospital engage suitably qualified consultants with a broad range of experience in the relevant area to assist in preparing relevant material for consideration. Refer to Appendix B - Scoping Options for Helipad Studies. Consultants should also have experience in the planning and design of EMS helipads or their equivalent and carry appropriate insurance (including Professional Indemnity with maintenance cover).
The location of the helipad, relative to the hospital Emergency Department, is a key factor in ensuring the helipad provides safe, efficient and effective transfer of patients including easy movement of the patient via trolley and in all weather conditions.
Selection of the helipad location also needs to consider the obstacle clearance requirements for Performance Class 1 helicopter operations, as defined by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).
In some locations, hospitals may need to consider access to an EMS helipad at an off site location. EMS helipads that are off-site will require the use of road ambulances to transfer the patient to and from the Emergency Department.
The location of an EMS helipad will primarily depend on the long term availability of clear flightpath envelopes that will ensure safe take off and landings for Performance Class 1 helicopter operations. Hospital management and consultants need to be aware that helipads and their associated flightpaths may restrict the development potential of other land within the flightpath envelopes. The future development potential within the hospital site therefore needs to be considered in the helipad location decision. In addition, the long term protection of flightpath envelopes needs to be implemented to control developments outside the hospital site which might compromise helicopter operations.
The helipad study should therefore have a minimum 10-year outlook in order to minimize conflicts with future redevelopment. Details concerning the size and shape of the flightpath envelope are contained in Section 3 – Helipad Spatial Requirements.
Alternate EMS helipad sites will be required in circumstances where a nominated helipad is not available due to reasons such as weather, maintenance, or obstacles in flightpaths. EMS helipad studies should identify and consider the availability of alternate helipad sites, flightpaths and access arrangements to ensure the overall usability and availability is maintained.
The design provisions presented in these guidelines are principally related to EMS helipads with elevations similar to the surrounding terrain. There may be situations however where benefits exist when the helipad is elevated above the surrounding area.
The dimensional requirements for such facilities are the same as the ground level helipad. Ramped access should be considered for patient transfer.
The benefits associated with such options need to be considered in consultation with the Manager, Air Ambulance Victoria.
Rooftop helipads are generally not recommended and will only be supported in special instances where the demand for services is critical and no suitable alternative is available. In those instances where a rooftop facility may need to be considered, the proposal should be discussed with the Manager, AAV in the first instance. Rooftop helipad facilities need to consider site-specific issues such as: