The weather seemed to be all anyone talked about in Maine this summer. According to a meteorologist at CBS 13 in Portland, the state saw only a single day in the month of June that was completely sunny statewide. Rain and fog, that was the story.
Helicopters can fly in the rain, but the visibility and ceiling (the altitude of the clouds) pose challenges. “Although we are an experienced single-pilot IFR program,” said Peter Cartmell, Director of Operations for LifeFlight Aviation Services, a division of LifeFlight of Maine, “we still have to meet certain weather safety requirements to fly.” In other words, LifeFlight has invested heavily in advanced technology that allows its helicopters to navigate using the instruments on board, as opposed to being able to navigate visually (i.e. “Instrument Flight Rules” or “IFR,” versus “Visual Flight Rules” or “VFR”). However, even the best equipment available in the hands of experienced pilots cannot always overcome dense fog along the coast of Maine.
LifeFlight of Maine takes its commitment to safety as seriously as it takes its promise to be there for the people of Maine. LifeFlight aircraft will remain on the ground if the weather is deemed unsafe for flight, a determination the pilot makes strictly based on weather conditions at the point of origin, destination, and along the flight path.
Despite the weather, LifeFlight helicopters were in the air, completing 91 patient transports in June alone. “Our pilots’ utilization of IFR flying continues to increase, which makes our operations safer,” said Cartmell. But the weather also kept helicopters on the ground more than it typically does in summer months. So, LifeFlight sent its airplane to complete 43 transports in June, because the aircraft is able to fly in a wider range of weather conditions than helicopters. When the airplane could not fly, Lifeflight crews went by ground. In total, LifeFlight transported 612 patients in June through August 2023 from every corner of Maine.