In a historic announcement with the FAA, PHI, Inc. announced that it is the first and only helicopter operator in the world to conduct ADS-B flights over the Gulf of Mexico. On December 17, 2009, at 7:32 a.m., PHI completed the first ever IFR Controlled Helicopter flight over the Gulf of Mexico using ADS-B Technology. This marked a groundbreaking flight for PHI and the FAA.
As part of the FAA's next generation of air traffic control technology, ADS-B (the acronym for Automatic Dependent Surveillance - Broadcast) will provide a safer flight environment for helicopters flying in the Gulf of Mexico and dramatically improve the efficiency of air traffic control. For the first time in the 60 years of helicopter operations over the Gulf, the FAA will be able to see aircraft in real time and provide improved separation services for ADS-B equipped aircraft.
"Being the first to conduct ADS-B flights over the Gulf of Mexico is a historic achievement and one in which we are proud to have been able to work so closely with the FAA," explained Lance Bospflug, Chief Operating Officer PHI Inc. "We have long prided our company on its ability to not only be among the first to adopt new technology, but to work in a collaborative way to ensure that technology is embraced and properly implemented across our industry. We are truly honored to have been able to so closely collaborate with the FAA, our customers and others to make this happen on this ambitious timeline. It is a tribute to the level of professionalism and resolve of our people."
An ADS-B equipped aircraft automatically transmits its position and other pertinent information to earth based receivers, which then relay this information to the FAA allowing them to provide Surveillance Services. Over most of the US, the FAA uses radar to determine aircraft position and separate aircraft. Challenges presented by large bodies of water such as the Gulf of Mexico prevent installation and use of radar. ADS-B receivers are relatively small and easy to install and maintain when compared to radar.
The implementation of ADS-B technology allows Air Traffic Controllers to "see" and separate PHI's aircraft from other properly equipped aircraft over the Gulf of Mexico; something that wasn't possible before ADS-B. An added benefit to being able to see aircraft is an increase in the number of aircraft which Houston Center can safely control at any one time. This increase in capacity will translate into improved on-time performance and efficiency to those working in the Gulf.
ADS-B services will improve fuel efficiency and limit flight times by allowing aircraft to fly in a straight line to their destination instead of following a "checker board" pattern currently in use over the Gulf. ADS-B will increase the FAA's capacity to handle aircraft during weather days resulting in a reduction in takeoff delays. And in general, it provides improved safety by having another set of eyes providing separation services to the aircraft and its passengers.
"As a pilot, this technology gives us yet another important safety advantage," shared Captain Kevin Lawlor, a pilot at PHI. "While our pilots are among the best and most highly trained in the world, our real advantage is the forward thinking culture our company has not only committed to, but invested in around the safety of our crews and passengers. We are all extraordinarily proud of yet another first for our company."
On September 2, 2007, PHI and other Gulf of Mexico Helicopter Operators entered into a Memorandum of Agreement with the FAA Surveillance and Broadcast Services Program Office, Helicopter Association International, and Energy Companies to enhance communications, weather and surveillance capabilities in the Gulf of Mexico.
In support of this agreement, PHI developed and installed ADS-B equipment for a number of its IFR aircraft supporting Gulf of Mexico Operations. The FAA established December 17, 2009 as the "go live" date for ADS-B operations over the Gulf of Mexico. PHI was the first, and remains the only, helicopter provider to achieve this milestone.
When the ADS-B effort was first announced, PHI carefully constructed a plan of action to partner with the FAA and others in leading the way to apply this technology. After the partnerships were formed, PHI then developed its implementation plan to become the first to install ADS-B equipment in its helicopters.
"This is a tribute to all the people, inside and outside of PHI, who worked diligently, day and night, and persevered through great challenges to bring this accomplishment to PHI and to those who will ultimately benefit the most from it, our passengers," continued Bospflug.
After years of planning and millions of dollars invested by the FAA, PHI, Inc., the Oil and Gas Industry, and other helicopter transportation companies, ADS-B has forever changed flights in the Gulf.
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