While involving an aerial cinematographer can guarantee some amazing shots for your film, it’s important to remember that helicopters are large and potentially dangerous machines. When using one such machine in film production, your aerial filming company will have a strict set of guidelines and rules to ensure the safety of all present on set. From pre-flight safety check-offs through to ground protocol it’s essential to ensure the highest standards of safety for all people in the air and on the ground.
Helicopter safety is always at risk of being affected by changing natural conditions such as wind, air density, altitude/temperature, humidity, and time of day. The amount that the aircraft is carrying, can also affect the ability of the helicopter to fly. So it is always important to take note of what conditions the team will be flying in to make sure everyone is safe.
Important Safety Steps for Cast and Crew:
1: The Pilot in Command will always have final authority over their helicopter and will be in command of choosing whether or not it is safe to fly, their opinion is final and cannot be debated.. The Pilot in Command also has the authority to abort any flight operation in the interest of safety. Abort signals should be specified ahead of time.
2: The Pilot in Command will coordinate with the film team and work out a way for the two teams to successfully communicate, both in the interest of arranging the correct shot, and to ensure the safety of both teams. The plan should incorporate the following:
● Designated ground contact personnel
● Air to ground radios
● Visual signals in the event of lost audio communication due to power or weather issues
● Abort signals, audible and visual, to halt filming in the event of unforeseen circumstances or safety hazards.
3: At the start of each day’s filming the Pilot in Command and the designated production representative need to set aside time to conduct a safety meeting for the production staff and anyone who will be involved in the filming that day, including applicable actors and safety personnel.
All briefings/safety meetings should include the following:
● A weather briefing by a member of the aerial filming company covering aspects of the weather that may affect the shoot.
● Possible risk to personnel that are involved.
● Safeguards for personnel and equipment.
● A confirmation on what communication options are available between the ground and air crew
● Emergency procedures, including firefighting or other emergency services equipment available.
● Location of boundaries.
● Local governmental limitations or restrictions, if applicable.
4: All ground staff must remain at least 17 metres away from the helicopter unless directed by the Pilot in Command or ground safety contact. No one should approach the helicopter without permission from the ground safety contact or the Pilot in Command under any circumstances for the safety of all involved.
5: Whether the rotors are turning or not, always approach and leave the helicopter from the front. Prior to your approach of the helicopter:
● Make acknowledged eye contact with the pilot.
● Wait for the pilot to acknowledge that they have seen you and are ready for you to approach
Walk, looking forward at all times.
● Never run.
● Never walk downhill towards a helicopter.
● Never walk uphill away from a helicopter.
6: Never walk near, around or under the rear and tail sections of the helicopter, whether it is running or not. If there is a pilot in the aircraft, it is possible that they will not know you are behind them and start the helicopter which can cause serious injury.
7: Flight operations closer than 150 metres to any cast members will only involve members of the ground crew who are required and consenting to the filming. Only actors who are needed for the shot will be standing near the aircraft, all others must stand back. The Pilot in Command and the designated security personnel should generally maintain an area perimeter to ensure that no unauthorised persons come within 150 metres of the flight operations
While involving an aerial cinematographer in your film project is exciting, it is of utmost importance that both the air and ground team follow these rules closely to ensure the safety of everyone in the crew. Your aerial filming company should have a deep understanding of all these guidelines and be able to go through them with you if anyone has questions about what is required.
Communication between both teams is very important to make sure everyone is across the rules and that air and ground teams are listening to each other at all times. Your Pilot in Command is the one who decides whether or not it is safe to fly, so make sure to hire a team that you trust to keep everyone safe.