Mountainflyers is a member of the Leading Helicopter Academies (LHA) and the most highly regarded flight school in Switzerland. Under EASA regulations there’s a mountain rating for fixed wing, there isn’t one for helicopters. But, Switzerland does offer a mountain rating. What is it and why does it exist? CEO and owner of Mountainflyers, Christoph Graf, explains.
Christoph: “First and foremost it’s about the big challenge of flying in high mountains. In the past there were many accidents, especially with transport and sling load operations. The authorities decided that special education and training needed to be introduced. To learn how to cope with altitude, strong winds and changing weather. It is a Swiss national rating. They actually wanted an international solution, including France and Italy, who also fly in the Alps. As well as Austria and Germany, who have mountains too, but that wasn’t possible initially.
Fortunately, the Swiss mountain rating is open to pilots from all these countries and many more. What we offer is a mountain training by an independent company, leading to an official rating backed by FOCA, the Swiss aviation authority.”
Limited landing spots without rating
Pilots who don’t have the Swiss mountain rating can still fly in the Swiss mountains, but can only use landing spots under 1,100 metres, whether it’s for fun, training or charter. So, you don’t have access to all 40 of the official high landing areas in Switzerland. The pilot must have this mountain rating, even when there is no altitude restriction for their flight, they still can’t land above 1,100 metres. That includes sling load operations, transportation, or telecommunications companies that might have to fly to an antenna.
Of course, for many young and aspiring pilots, it is not an immediate necessity that they complete mountain training to be able to land in the Alps They’re more concerned with gaining the hours and experience they need for the CPL or ATPL licences. The big question then is, by doing the Swiss mountain rating, how does it help to make you a better pilot? How does it make your CV better, when you’re applying for jobs in the future? Also, how will this work for the newly introduced international hour building programme by LHA? Where pilot trainees can build up their hours at different locations all over Europe.
Separate course for international hour building programme
Christoph: “We introduced separate courses for the international hour building programme. Ideally, you want to complete the full programme to receive the mountain rating. But you can also attend training courses of 10-15 hours to get a feel of the mountains. In all cases the 10 hours of theory regarding survival is very important. About the wind, and fast-changing and wet conditions. Understanding the direction of the wind, even when it’s not really that strong is very important. For example, you might have a wind of 10 knots near the top of the mountains, but it might be 40 knots in the valleys.”
Wind turbulence isn’t just something you will experience in the Swiss Alps, it’s everywhere you fly. If you’re flying on the other side of the world, for example, in downtown Los Angeles in the United States. You still have to contend with strong wind conditions, because of the turbulence caused by the buildings: the high buildings are comparable to the high mountains. The mountain rating training will help you make better decisions, also about where you can land most safely, wherever you are.
Christoph: “The choice you have to make is about how much you want or need the rating. Or whether you prefer to have a basic understanding of mountain flying. A firm grasp of the theoretical basis, an introduction to the various conditions and the challenges you will face.”
It’s about the number of landings
Mountain training can be a very important step in learning how to become a helicopter pilot. Finding out about reconnaissance, flying in a confined area or pinnacle approaches.
Christoph: “We had this student who had done all his helicopter training for his PPL at airports. He had never made an outside landing, he had no idea what to do, we had to teach him, to make good decisions and good outside landings. We start with easier flat spots, before going off to high altitudes with snow, rocks, glaciers and ice. That’s what really makes the mountain rating different. It’s not about the number of hours like other licences, it’s about the number of landings, according to the different altitudes and different spots.”
Mountainflyers attracts many international students, who start their training at the Bern-Belp and the Grenchen airports. This involves 50 landings up to an altitude of 2,000 metres. Some areas are just grass, nice valleys and forest. The perfect area to begin your mountain training, not too difficult.
Christoph: “The second part of the training involves 150 landings at 20 different official landing spots. 10 of those above 2,700 metres, going up to around 4,000 metres. For the first 50 landings we use the R22, when we fly higher for the second training course, we generally use the R44 or the Bell 505”
The ideal combination: R22 and R44
Christoph: “In the summertime it can be really quite challenging. You cannot even approach some of the high-altitude spots with the R44. Then we use the Bell 505. Or, when you fly the H125, it’s very easy, because you don’t have to make performance calculations every time.”
As Christoph sees it, it’s important to learn how to make these calculations. That’s why he believes the best mountain training is the combination of the R22 and R44. Then the pilot really needs to understand how to calculate, there are no margins for error. For each flight there are different calculations, for the amount of fuel needed, the amount of people, the weather. So you understand where you can hover, where you can land. All these elements taken together make mountain flying incredibly challenging.
Would you like to find out more about the Swiss mountain rating? Contact www.mountainflyers.ch. If you want to know more about the international hour building programme, visit https://www.lha.eu/hourbuilding/