What are the rules about helicopters?
While helicopter routes exist, helicopters are not restricted to these routes. Inside controlled airspace helicopters must comply with directions from air traffic control whether flying on or off established routes. Outside controlled airspace aircraft including helicopters are not under the direction of air traffic control but they must comply with aviation regulations set down by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority at all times.
Like other aircraft, helicopters must generally remain above 1000 feet over populous areas or 500 feet over other areas or water, unless they are in the process of landing or taking off or their activity has a dispensation or exemption, for example, to conduct air work at lower levels or emergency operations. This is set out in the Civil Aviation Regulations which are administered by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority. Police, rescue, fire fighting and military operations may operate at any altitude required. The media and some business operations including those that perform lifting work, power line surveys, filming and photography, may also carry dispensations to work at lower levels.
There are no regulations or legislation that prevent helicopters from hovering over an area. For example, media helicopters are permitted to hover while covering a story or sporting event.
When in or seeking to enter controlled airspace, helicopters may at times be directed by air traffic control to hold and hover over a certain area while waiting for a clearance to enter controlled airspace or to land at an airport.