AUBURN — Officials from LifeFlight medical helicopter service presented proposals Wednesday night to make flights safer across the state, taking into account better visibility for pilots and easier access to air traffic controllers.

The discussion at a virtual meeting from the service’s hangar at 49 White Hangar Drive at the Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport was the second of three. The first was Tuesday at Sanford Seacoast Regional Airport and the third is at Bangor International Airport at 6:30 p.m. Thursday.

Thomas Judge, executive director LifeFlight, and David Burr, director of operations, outlined the work being done to enhance safety within the flight infrastructure, focusing on better visibility for pilots and easier access to air traffic controllers.

The nonprofit organization’s parent organizations are Northern Light Health and Central Maine Healthcare. LifeFlight’s aviation services are provided by a subsidiary, LifeFlight Aviation Services.

A collaborative effort between LifeFlight, the Maine Department of Transportation, the Maine Department of Public Safety and the Federal Aviation Administration, the new flight plans take into account Maine’s complex topographical and weather characteristics.

Maine is one of the most complicated states for pilots in the United States, aside from Alaska, due to fog created by the Labrador current, mountainous terrain and its rural landscape which makes up more than 60% of the state’s area. It’s the second most rural state, after Vermont. Pilots often have to be cognizant of freezing levels and operate below them to guarantee safety to avoid ice.


The new flight plans are patterned after major travel routes in the state, including Route 1, I-295, I-95, Route 3 and Route 9. The helicopter routes must be beneath fixed-wing altitude.

According to Judge, the most crucial aspect of establishing routes is making them as predictable as possible for air traffic control. Developing a route structure between familiar points creates predictability through aviation locations monitored in databases by the FAA.

Increased access to weather reporting and updated weather monitoring equipment are major aspects of the proposed plan, which would allow pilots to adapt to the changing environment during flights.

Life Flight has added 17 new weather stations throughout the state, increasing the total to 28, consequently maintaining more stations than the National Weather Service.

Additionally, easier access to fuel and helipads is expected to complement the new infrastructure and promote safer travel between hospitals and often out-of-reach areas along the coast and inland in more wooded areas.

“As this system develops, we’ll have to have new capabilities to be much more precise at what we do,” Judge said.

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