Flying in a helicopter is a fantastic experience but they are not an easy machine to get into especially if you are disabled or have leg or knee issues, but that does not mean you are unable to ride a helicopter. With a little help and some planning, a helicopter ride is a great way to enjoy our planet, no matter what disabilities a person has.
In general, any disabled person that can get into a seat of a helicopter and wear a seat belt is able to fly. Portable wheelchairs with removable wheels may be carried, but heavy, electric wheelchairs usually will have to remain on the ground. Some helicopters have a weight restriction of 240lbs.
Having personally flown several passengers with varying disabilities I can tell you it is pure joy to see an item on their bucket list get accomplished. Flying in a helicopter with any person who has any kind of disability can be done, but it just needs a little planning and liaison with the helicopter company to allow for the steps to be taken to ensure their flight is one they will remember for all the right reasons!
Are Helicopters Accessible for Wheelchair Users?
Most helicopters are able to fly someone who relies on a wheelchair. Depending on the disability and physical size of the passenger a helicopter ride just needs a little planning and some help on the day. The help does not have to fly, but they may be needed to help the passenger in and out of the helicopter.
The Two Most Popular Helicopters Used in Tours are the Airbus H130 and H125:
The first step is to contact the helicopter operator that runs the tours in your desired location. By liaising with them you will be able to understand their policies and begin to make arrangements for the flight.
To help you understand I have created some diagrams with measurements for the two most popular helicopters used in tour flights, but if they are using a different helicopter you can plan on the following rough dimensions:
The average helicopter floor is 2-3′ off the ground. Seats will usually be around 12″ higher than the cabin floor. Some helicopters may have a step between the ground and the cabin floor and some may not.
Depending on the mobility of the passenger they can be guided with help from the wheelchair, to the step, to the cabin floor, and then into their seat. For those passengers that require help, they may need to be lifted completely from their chair and into the helicopter.
For this reason, it is highly recommended that they bring help with them that has experience in moving them properly so that no one gets injured. The pilot will be there to assist and guide but generally do not plan on the pilot helping with the lift.
Most disabled passengers will be placed in the seat next to the door. This allows for easier access, but sometimes they may wish or be required to sit more towards the middle, especially in the larger tour helicopters. If this is the case please see the dimensions below for the Airbus H125, also known as an Astar, and the Airbus H130 also known as an EC130:
Once in the helicopter, the passenger will be required to wear a seat belt. Most of these are the typical 3 point harness found in your car, or there may be an adjustable 4 point harness that has two shoulder straps and a lap belt that buckles at the front. If the passenger finds these seatbelts too tight, then a seat belt extension may be required. This is something to mention to the tour operator when on the initial telephone call.
Some helicopter tour companies may even provide an automated lift system to help the passenger get into the helicopter. This system can be wheeled into place and once transferred to the lift it acts very similar to a home stairlift and glides them up the track. From here they can then easily move over or have help to move over into the helicopter seat and be buckled in.
There are many different types of lift available so be sure to ask the helicopter company if they have a lift and if it has any particular limitations which may cause you any concerns.
Some helicopters like the Robinson R44 have a seat weight limit of 240lb/108Kg because of the collapsibility feature designed into each seat to absorb the impact of a hard landing. If the passengers’ weight is an issue, the H125 or H130 are a better option for the passenger as they have no seat weight restrictions.
If the passenger is larger and will not fit in just one seat then this will need to be discussed with the helicopter company beforehand. Occupying two seats is usually not a problem, but there may be an additional cost if the tour is based on price-per-seat. Most tour companies usually have a standard policy on the passenger requiring to purchase two seats if their weight is over 300lb/136kg.
For those passengers that have tendencies to shout, scream, panic, or lash out they can still be flown but it will be at the discretion of the pilot. My advice would be to sit that passenger in the seat furthest away from the pilot and have a helper with enough strength to sit between the passenger and the pilot.
Should the disabled passenger begin to panic and become agitated the helper needs to be able to control that passenger so the pilot is able to safely fly the helicopter. It is very rare that anything like this happens, but it is something to be aware of.
When booking a flight for a disabled passenger here are few things to talk to the helicopter company tour rep about. Be cautious when booking through a third party as they will most likely not have the correct answers for you and this could end up with a denial of flight if you turned up to the helicopter without previous knowledge of your arrival.
- Type of disability – Are they liable to panic, shout, lashout
- Weight of the passenger
- Width of the passenger when sitting (May need two seats)
- Are seat belt extensions available
- # of people accompanying them on the flight
- # of helpers coming to assist but stay on the ground
- If the tour flight stops at a location, can a wheel chair be flown, if so, type, size and weight of chair
- If they have an automated chair lifting device to move passenger into the helicopter
- Any other information you think the helicopter company may wish to know
When booking a tour flight, many companies are ADA compliant and will be very pleased to assist you with your booking. One of the biggest helicopter tour operators, Maverick Helicopters is ADA compliant and offers incredible tours of Las Vegas, The Grand Canyon, and Hawaii.
I know several pilots who have flown for them and they loved their time there. The staff are fantastic, the terminals and helicopters are pristine and their safety record is first class!
If You Wish to Take a Tour Flight with Maverick Helicopters, Please Click On Their Banners Below for More Details:
Can Wheelchairs Be Carried in a Helicopter?
Small, lightweight, manual wheelchairs designed to be portable can be taken in a helicopter providing it fits in the cargo storage area. Large, heavy, motorized chairs are usually too large and heavy to be taken in a helicopter. These types of chairs will be left behind during the flight.
When booking your flight it is important to speak with the representative from the helicopter company to discuss what type of helicopter is being used and the type of wheelchair the passenger plans to bring. If the flight is a tour flight that begins and ends in the same location then the wheelchair can be left with the ramp staff.
If the tour has a planned stop, for example, a lunch, then a chair will need to be taken. Small helicopters like the Robinson R44 will not be able to accommodate the wheelchair in their cargo compartments but the Airbus H125 and H130 should have no issues, as they have large storage compartments on each side of the helicopter.
The Airbus H125 and H130 (As seen above) have two cargo holds, one on each side of the aircraft. Depending on the type of doors fitted, the rough openings are approximately 28″ high, 53″ long, and the depth of the cargo bay is 17″ at the front and 8″ deep towards the tail.
The wheels may have to be removed and the chair folded down before being passed on to a ramp agent, if so, a helper who is familiar with the chair is advisable. This helper can be someone who joins the passenger on the flight or stays behind and is just there to help with the passenger loading.
Just because a person is not able to easily climb into a helicopter should not prevent them from experiencing the incredible flight inside one of these remarkable machines. The view and feeling of floating can only be matched by another helicopter!
With a little planning and talking with the usually very helpful helicopter staff, anybody should be able to take flight. If the passenger has to rely on a motorized chair then a tour flight that begins and terminates in the same location is advisable. If they are able to move into a manual, portable chair then any tour flight should be no problem.
If you wish to take flight then I highly recommend you get in touch with Maverick Helicopters and begin planning that ‘Bucket List’ item! You can find out more about Maverick Helicopters and their incredible selection of tours at their website HERE.