Pediatric Critical Care Air Transport

Frequently Asked Questions

Why does Children’s Hospital have a pediatric critical care air transport program?
As the only free-standing quaternary pediatric healthcare facility in Louisiana, having critical care air transport capabilities is vital in our service to children. Children’s Hospital New Orleans is one of only two Level-IV Neonatal Intensive Care Units in the state, has the largest Pediatric Intensive Care Unit in the state, and has the longest-standing pediatric Congenital Heart Program in the state with the largest Cardiac Intensive Care Unit that is staffed 24/7/365 by dedicated pediatric cardiac intensive care physicians.

In 2010 a tragic accident occurred, and a Louisiana family was not able to get their child, Abby, to a hospital in time. Sadly, Abby did not survive. A close family friend generously donated funds to Children’s Hospital to buy a helicopter so that no other family would have to suffer such a tragedy. On January 1, 2011, Children’s Hospital put our first helicopter into service and dedicated the aircraft in Abby’s memory.

Did other air ambulance providers land at Children’s Hospital prior to 2011?
The previous (old) landing structure for Children’s Hospital was constructed in 2006 as a lesson learned following Hurricane Katrina, with the intended purpose of use during a mass evacuation of patients in an emergency. It was not until Children’s Hospital purchased its own helicopter in 2011 that the old landing structure began being used for air ambulance service by AirMed and other air ambulance providers. Prior to 2011, Children’s Hospital only received patients transports via ground ambulance and fixed wing aircraft which would land at Lakefront Airport and then be transported to Children's via ground ambulance.

Why can’t patients be transported by ground ambulance?
Children’s Hospital does transport many children by ground ambulance. In fact, only 5.4% of Children's Hospital's admissions from 2019 were via air transport. An air ambulance is used when every minute counts to save a life. Many of our patients are critically ill children and neonatal patients from across the state of Louisiana and the Gulf South who need immediate surgery or highly specialized care to treat time-sensitive emergencies such as a child drowning, a car accident victim with life threatening injuries, or a premature newborn. Requests are made for the mode of transportation that will most benefit the patient based on the information available in real time.

Why did you move the helicopter and helistop? Was it necessary?
The helistop was moved for two primary reasons. First, the new site was deemed to be safer by pilots and aviation experts, due to increased flexibility to take off and land into the wind direction and avoid wind impact of the immediately adjacent six story hospital tower to the old helistop location. Second, the new site is closer to where our patients need to be to receive lifesaving care. Whereas the old site required navigating several hallways and moving from one building to another, the new site is directly above and connected to the cardiac ICU, operating rooms and the forthcoming trauma center. Because the air ambulance is used when every minute counts to save a life, this new location is important. The new entry point on top of the building is optimal and provides a safer and faster location for our patients and flight crew.

Who determines the flight patterns of air ambulances and other helicopters?
The FAA establishes the pilot as the person with ultimate responsibility for safe operation of the helicopter based on safety specific circumstances. Only the pilot can judge and adjust the flight path for safety threats such as wind, obstacles, other aircraft, etc. Children’s Hospital values our neighbors, and our pilots are fully aware of our location in the heart of the Uptown residential area. Our pilots are long-standing members of our flight program and take great care to avoid flying directly above residential homes as well as the Audubon Zoo, as long as it is safe to fly via the alternate paths.

Why don't air ambulances always follow the designated flight path?
Air ambulances vary their route to the hospital depending on the direction they are coming from, other air traffic, obstacles (tall buildings and towers), and wind patterns. This is much the same as why airplanes landing at the same airport may land and depart on different runways based on the conditions at the time.

How high are air ambulances supposed to fly?
Typically, air ambulances are supposed to fly at a cruising altitude that clears the highest obstacle in the flight path plus 300 feet (day) and 500 feet (night). For in and around the city of New Orleans, this means that the Children’s Hospital air ambulance will usually fly between 1,500 and 2,000 feet (unless landing or taking off). It is our preferred practice to land and take off from the southwest, southeast, and east of the hospital whenever possible, thus avoiding the northern flight path over the neighborhood.

What has Children’s Hospital done to communicate the new helistop and preferred flight paths to the other air ambulance companies in the area?
Children’s Hospital has shared this information with air medical operators in the Gulf South region. Air ambulance providers were educated on the preferred flight paths for approaches and departures, as well as the intent for noise abatement considerations (due to the close residential area) with the understanding for infrequent exceptions for safety or weather-related reasons.

What type of engagement has Children's Hospital had with neighbors?
Children’s Hospital is in the midst of a $300 million renovation and addition to its main campus, including a new medical tower, parking garage and crosswalk. There has been robust engagement with the neighborhood over the span of several years, including a series of neighborhood meetings held prior to construction beginning in 2017.

In October 2018, Children's Hospital's pilots first raised concerns to hospital leadership about the safety of the old helistop location. The hospital's architects and Metro Aviation were engaged to assess the enhanced safety of a proposed relocation to the top of Children's new Medical Tower. Because Children’s Hospital's leadership recognized the need for children at risk with life-threatening conditions to be transported as fast and safely as possible, the decision was made to update the original medical tower designs to include the new helistop.

While hospital leadership expected disruptions due to construction and planned accordingly, we did not anticipate any neighborhood sound impact from moving the helistop due to the fact that the hospital has had helicopter transports on site since 2011. Had Children's understood that sound would be a concern for homes in immediate adjacency to the hospital, we would have engaged the neighborhood.

Can you make the old helistop safer?
Unfortunately, simply moving the helistop back to the old site both adds time to our life-saving missions and doesn’t solve the safety concerns shared by pilots. Experts have not been able to identify a way for the old helistop’s safety to be improved.

Why is the Children's Hospital landing site a helistop and not a heliport?
The helistop is a landing location for air ambulances at Children’s Hospital. The helicopters are not based at the hospital landing site permanently.

Where is the helicopter based?
Children’s Hospital’s helicopter is operated by AirMed Services, who leases hangar and office space at Lakefront Airport, as the helicopter’s permanent base.

Do you have a permit for the new helicopter landing site?
A helistop is permitted by right in a medical campus district.

What is the status of Children’s Hospital’s Medical Tower building permit?
Children’s Hospital filed for the first in a series of permits for its new medical tower in October 2017. Children’s Hospital paid the permit fee and passed inspections with the State Fire Marshal and Louisiana Department of Health at appropriate phases of the project, as well as many inspections by the City's Office of Safety and Permits as expected throughout various phases of the construction process. The building permit application review was completed by the City in May 2019, and the final building permit was issued by the City in January 2021.

How far is the new helicopter landing structure from the neighborhood?
While the new landing structure is closer to Tchoupitloulas St., it is still 100 meters, or more than a football field, away from surrounding neighborhood homes, which is more distance than other helicopter landing sites in the City.

See attached for a comparison to other helicopter landing site distances from residential homes.

How many helicopter take-offs/landings are there at Children’s Hospital every year?
The Children’s Hospital helicopter flies around 350 children into the hospital every year (almost one patient per day). More than 80% of these life-saving pediatric critical care transport trips happen during normal daytime hours This means that on average there are less than five pediatric critical care transport flights per month during overnight hours. Since “Abby” was placed into service on January 1, 2011, she has helped save the lives of over 2,650 children.

What is the impact of the sound from the helicopter? Children’s Hospital has said it conducted a sound study. What did it find?
Harris Miller Miller & Hanson Inc. (HMMH), an industry leader in environmental and transportation planning including sound and vibration control, performed sound and vibration monitoring and sound modeling to document and analyze the sound environment in the vicinity of the Children’s Hospital New Orleans (the Hospital) this summer. Their report found that “sources other than the Hospital’s helicopter generated just as much if not greater vibration levels and at a much higher frequency of occurrence.” The data also “suggests that the noise and vibration contributions for the Hospital’s helicopter operations are not significant when compared to the overall ambient community noise environment. Such that, if the Hospital’s helicopter operations were eliminated, the ambient community noise environment would remain unchanged.”

Short-term monitoring efforts and associated data show that multiple sources of community noise exist beyond helicopter sound, including aircraft, construction, roadways, and trains. And while sound levels in the community due to Hospital helicopter operations may sometimes briefly exceed those caused by other community sound sources, the operations are relatively short in duration and infrequent when compared to sound from more prevailing sources like roadway traffic.

HMMH also modeled the differences between the new helistop site and the former site. It found that “the existing helistop and flight tracks produce marginally higher noise levels in the community surrounding the Hospital, mainly due to the higher elevation of the pad allowing for less shielding of noise from surrounding buildings. However, as stated, any increase in noise due to the change in helistops is minor when compared to the frequency and duration of other noise sources within the community.”

View the sound study.

What can Children’s do to lessen the impact of the helicopter’s sound? What actions has Children’s Hospital taken to address neighbors’ concerns following the move of the helistop?
As a result of the helistop relocation, our immediate neighbors experienced unanticipated increased sound during the initial takeoffs and landings, as the preferred flight path given to Children’s by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) directed the helicopter north, over the neighborhood. After Children’s received the neighborhood concerns, we worked with the FAA to adjust our primary flight paths so that the helicopter would take off and land away from the neighborhood. The flight path over the neighborhood will only be used in occurrences of inclement weather when the pilots are forced to fly via instrumentation. Children’s Hospital has also eliminated scheduled transport overnight flights (8:00 pm – 7:00 am).

View flight paths from May - June 2020.

What jet fuel services does Children’s Hospital have on site?

Children’s Hospital originally had aviation fuel tank capacity added to its new helistop because the hospital’s old landing structure also had emergency fuel. However, after hearing concerns from the neighborhood, Children’s Hospital applied for tank decommissioning with the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ). The tanks were closed in place and made inoperable on November 3, 2020.

View fuel decommissioning documentation.

What is the status of the neighbors' appeal to the Board of Zoning Adjustments?

A group of Children's Hospital neighbors filed an appeal with the City of New Orleans Board of Zoning Adjustments, challenging an August 2020 zoning determination by the Office of Safety & Permits that the Children’s Hospital air ambulance landing zone was a "helistop," as compared to a "heliport." The City determined that the primary distinction between the two classifications is the existence of service facilities with permanent basing. Children's Hospital does not base nor have servicing facilities in operation for the air ambulance on site. In early November 2020, the Board of Zoning Adjustments denied this appeal, and unanimously determined that the City of New Orleans Office of Safety & Permits was correct in its determination that the site and its operations are classified as a "helistop." A group of neighbors has since appealed that ruling to Orleans Parish Civil District Court. Children's Hospital is not a party to that lawsuit.

How can neighbors keep up to date on the helistop’s usage?
Please visit our webpage here for more information on how neighbors can stay in touch.