Flying in the Alps
Flying in mountainous areas offers fascinating experiences, breathtaking views, and plenty of challenges. This article looks at some of the ups and downs of high terrain. While principles apply almost anywhere, more specific information is based on experience in Switzerland.
In Switzerland, landings above 1100masl are only allowed at designated landing sites. Unlike altiports they don’t have a runway or other infrastructure. Some have a mountain restaurant in the vicinity, otherwise only reachable after hiking for many hours. Others give you the impression you might be the only person for miles around, which is unlikely in this tiny country.
To land on a glacier or similarly spectacular locations should be on any pilots buc
ket list, and as soon as I had the opportunity I grabbed an instructor, an R44 and off we went.
Oh, wait a moment. Did I forget to mention that thorough Preparation is key for a successful flight? Even more so in a foreign place, and challenging terrain. Here just a few specialities:
Maps – I don’t know of any permanent altiports in Switzerland, but there are 40 approved mountain landing sites for helicopters (25 of those are also suited for fixed wing aircraft). They can be found in the AIP, with coordinates only. The flying school has a more detailed manual describing recommended approaches and dangers.
Weather – In addition to generally known weather reports, there is a report called GAFOR (“General Aviation FORecast”), which shows conditions for typical VFR routings over mountain passes.
Since we will be operating far from any airfield, we also use webcams to check local weather close to our planned landing sites.
So far so good, I was a little surprised when the instructor checked a skiing website. However it had nothing to do with weekend plans. Here we can find information about snow condition, and whether there is a danger of avalanches.
Performance – Your favourite subject in ground school? Well, today is the practical side of it.
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