NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – When life is on the line, minutes can make a difference, and weather plays a role in that timing.
Rain and fog may not seem like terrible weather, but they are considered marginal conditions for pilots.
“Aviation in general can be a very dangerous process, especially air medical services,” said Denise Baylous, who is the Nightingale manager and a flight nurse.
In marginal weather, pilots have to use Instrument Flight Rules, instead of Visual Flight Rules. With those rules comes new routes.
Baylous said, “It allows the pilot to function only off of his instrument. It allows us to be able to fly in weather that we normally would not be able to do.”
For the last two years, the Nightingale team has worked to develop the new routes.
“We know that there are no obstacles or issues with those routes,” Baylous said. “They’re private highways in the sky.”
The locations the routes include are:
- Sentara Norfolk General Hospital
- Sentara Obici Hospital (Suffolk)
- Sentara Williamsburg Regional Medical Center
- Isle of Wight County Rescue Squad (Smithfield, Va.)
- Campbell Field (Northampton County, Eastern Shore of Virginia)
- Sentara Albemarle Medicine Center (Elizabeth City, N.C.)
- Outer Banks Hospital (Nags Head, N.C.)
- Corolla Fire Station (Carolla, N.C.)
- Carova Beach Volunteer Fire & Rescue Station (Corolla, N.C.)
The new routes mean more flights in marginal weather, which can help more patients. Plus, it alleviates some of the burden placed on local EMS workers when treating or transporting patients.
That being said, the routes may be considered unsafe in severe weather. “We still have limitations based off of those routes, but our pilots will be making that decision based off of what the routes are doing,” Baylous said.
They hope to launch the routes in 2018, pending approval from the FAA.
In 2016, Nightingale flew more than 700 times. Baylous expects that number to increase with the new instrumental flight routes.
Nightingale will also soon have a rooftop helipad at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital. Baylous says it’s easier for the helicopter to land on an elevated space.