Heliports: 25 Frequently Asked Questions & Answers


Heliports/Vertiports are designated helicopter and tiltrotor landing and take off areas. They range from simple unprepared open fields and parking lots to locations that support scheduled air services, complete with hangars, fuel and aircraft maintenance capabilities. Over 90% of current facilities are of the simple single-aircraft variety with no fuel or services.


2. What is the difference between a Heliport/Helistop and Vertiport/Vertistop?

A heliport/helistop is designed for helicopter takeoffs and landings. A heliport has support facilities such as fuel, hangaring and attendants. A helistop is an area that can be multi-use, such as a parking lot, athletic field, rest area along highways, and golf course. It has no support facilities such as fuel, hangaring or attendants. When not in use as a helistop, the area can be used for other purposes.

A Vertiport/Vertistop is designed for use by tiltrotors as well as helicopters. A vertiport has support facilities such as fuel, hangaring and attendants. A vertistop is an area that can be multi-use, such as a parking lot, athletic field, rest area along the highway, and golf course. It has no support facilities such as fuel, hangaring or attendants.


3. What are the sizes of a typical heliport/vertiport facilities?

All international standards have space requirements (both on land and in the air) for an obstacle-free area in order for the aircraft to land and takeoff. The standards for touchdown area sizes (the pad itself) are generally predicated on the size of the aircraft landing gear footprint or the rotor diameter. The obstacle-clear areas surrounding the touchdown area are generally determined by a multiplier of the aircraft’s overall length or rotor system size. They can vary from an open area of 64′ x 64′ for a small two-seat helicopter to 109′ x 109′ for a medium twin-engine helicopter and up to several acres for facilities serving multiple aircraft.

There are approach slope requirements for at least one approach and departure route for facility access. These airspace standards are generally based on the size of the largest aircraft using the facility.


4. What are the different types of Heliports/Vertiports?

The type of Heliport/Vertiport is determined by its usage. The most typical:

A. Private (Also known as Prior Permission Required PPR facilities) are just that, privately owned and operated. You need permission to land there. They are privately funded, located on private/corporate property and not open to the general public. These make up the majority of existing facilities.

B. General Aviation (GA) facilities are open to the general aviation public, and the majority charge landing or other fees. They may be a combination of privately and publicly owned properties. If the location has been funded by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Airport Improvement Program (AIP), the facility must be public use and committed to operate for a specified period of time. GA facilities may vary from a single-ship heliport to an elaborate location designed for tiltrotors with multiple parking locations and intermodal links to light or heavy rail systems, ferries, highways and airports. Many locations form part of a hub and spoke system of heliports that serve as feeders from major cities to airports, suburban to urban areas, and city-center to city-center locations.

C. Transport facilities are publicly owned or controlled and are designed for accommodating larger helicopters and tiltrotor aircraft and increased numbers of passengers. Transport heliports generally include intermodal considerations, passenger waiting and ticketing areas and provisions for the high security associated with direct linking of helicopters to major air carriers at airports. Think of them as a helicopter airport.

D. Hospital facilities are generally located on or near the hospital campus and can be ground level, elevated or on rooftops. In addition to the normal provisioning for Heliport/Vertiport operational requirements, patient handling and care considerations are very important in the facility design. The proximity to the trauma/emergency areas or ambulance drop-off and pick-up points must be considered. The access at many hospitals is restricted to emergency services or medical evacuation (Medevac) helicopters.

E. Official-Use facilities are for police, fire and sheriff’s departments, as well as various Federal, State and local governmental agencies. Special permission is generally required for aircraft other than their own or invited official guests to land at these locations.

F. Medical Emergency Sites are any suitable clear and open areas that are close to or at the scene of an accident, medical emergency or disaster that meets the criteria set by the Medevac company and the pilot-in-command of the aircraft. While these may be a pre-planned system of sites along highways, as in rest areas or recreational areas, they are not designed for other than lifesaving emergency use. These sites, due to their nature of usage, are typically not subject to formal regulatory review and oversight.

G. Emergency Evacuation Facilities are intended for use in the event of an emergency, to facilitate bringing emergency personnel to a roof and removing building occupants. Local building codes may require buildings that are over a predetermined height to provide for a roof area with sufficient size and strength to land a helicopter. Some building owners have constructed private heliports on their buildings that both service the travel needs of the building occupants and meet evacuation requirements.

H. Temporary facilities refer only to the Federal Aviation Regulation (FAR) Part 157. The FAA does not require notification of intent to construct or activate any intermittent-use, Visual Flight Rules- (VFR) only site which is used or intended to be used for less than one year. Intermittent use means use or intention to use for no more than three days in any one week and no more than 10 operations in any one day.

Keep in mind that this does not override any state or local jurisdiction regulation, which in some areas requires permission for any landings (typically excluding medical and public safety emergencies).


5. Where can heliport/vertiport facilities be located?

The versatility of the vertical-flight aircraft allows these areas to be anywhere there is sufficient space. For instance, they could be located on ground-level; elevated on buildings, parking garages, canopies, bridges, or over freeways and interstates; on docks, piers, barges, boats, offshore oil/gas rigs, or portable deck systems in jungles/mountains/marshes; and even on water for aircraft equipped with floats.

The location depends predominately on the available air space, real estate priorities and exact departure points/destinations of the passengers or where the services are required. For example, hospitals generally want the heliport as close as possible to the emergency treatment area for incoming patients. Corporate clients are interested in getting to or from their meetings/conferences or connecting to longer-range aircraft. Forest/Exploration/Utility crews need to access the area in which they are working.

The facilities can be in cities, suburbs, rural areas or forests and are limited only by the availability of a small open area and a way of supporting the weight of the aircraft.


6. What materials are used to construct Heliports/Vertiports?

The most common heliport material for ground level sites is turf or supplemented turf (grass pavers, PSP, mixed gravel, shells, coral). For more elaborate sites or for elevated structures, asphalt and concrete, concrete and steel, aluminum, wood and composites may be used. Composites include fiberglass, Kevlar, carbon and numerous other fibers epoxied together and formed into high-strength structural members.


7. What are the pros and cons of these construction materials with heliports?
A. Cement

Cement is the least expensive, most durable, non-combustible, provides vibration dampening, is easily repaired, can be refinished as needed and has minimal deflection. However, it is heavy, non-portable, and difficult to retrofit with deicing and anti-icing systems.

B. Aluminum

Aluminum is lightweight, easily transportable for installation, lends itself to pad relocation, easily adapted to deicing equipment, weather resistant, and virtually maintenance proof. However, it is more expensive than cement, has less dampening, and will melt in most fuel-involved fires.
C. Composite

Composite pads are the lightest in the industry. They’re strong, portable, a natural insulator and flame retardant. However, they are the most expensive and there are very few suppliers.


8. Who regulates heliport/vertiport facilities?

In the U.S. and its territories and possessions, the FAA assures that the landing area meets the general requirements for the safe and efficient use of airspace. This includes interfacing with current or planned aeronautical or other use of the subject airspace. The state/regional/local governments will be involved with licensing/permitting based on the land-use regulations and state laws. International regulations may vary quite significantly from country to country.


9. Are Heliports/Vertiports covered by most zoning codes?

Many municipalities have specific references to Heliports/Helistops in their land-use regulations. Many authorities have included and permitted these landing areas as accessory uses of a primary land use. Yet others require a Conditional Use Permit to operate a heliport, which is a permitting process similar to receiving a building permit.
There are some zoning codes which restrict or even prohibit such facilities. The starting point is obtaining and understanding the regulations in the jurisdiction your potential facility will be located.


10. What are the benefits of such a heliport/vertiport facility?

A. Economic

A Heliport/Vertiport can help attract and keep businesses that use helicopters/tiltrotors. A great majority of the largest U.S. and international corporations own, lease or charter helicopters for the safe, secure, reliable and dependable transportation of their top executives and clients.

B. Emergency/Disaster Relief

A system of strategically placed facilities can provide, in addition to the daily business and private sector benefits, an emergency system of landing/staging areas. In the event of a local or regional disaster (i.e., fire, earthquakes, floods and industrial accidents), helicopters can be immediately available for saving lives and property.
C. Medical Use

The use of helicopters as aerial ambulances has made the inclusion of a heliport at trauma centers a requirement in many states and countries. Hospitals around the world consider a heliport an essential part of the total patient-care system, which has resulted in thousands of lives saved.

D. Public Service-Disaster Relief

Many public safety agencies (i.e., fire, law enforcement and government wildlife and resource management authorities) use helicopters and associated heliports. Many such agencies credit their use of helicopters with the very ability to do their missions effectively.

E. News Gathering/Reporting, Traffic and Safety

Many network and local TV and radio stations are using helicopters and the local heliports for their support to provide up-to-the second news, traffic reports and, in some cases, lifesaving information to the public.

F. Utility, Forest and Resource Management

Many heliports support helicopters that patrol and repair critical power transmission lines, fight forest fires, manage national forests, and survey vast areas without the need for disturbing the environment.


11. What equipment is needed for a Heliport/Vertiport?

Equipment requirements are based upon the mission of the facility. A simple daylight-only VFR ground location will need only a wind indicator and some markings. Current National Fire Protection Association standards do not require any fire equipment for an unattended facility. Attended ground-level facilities require portable fire extinguishers, and most elevated locations over occupied structures will require specialized foam-dispensing equipment.

If the location is to be used at night, simple perimeter and obstruction lighting is generally all that is needed. Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) will generally indicate the need for more extensive lighting and ground equipment if satellite-based global positioning system (GPS) instrument approaches are to be used.

Fueling, servicing and automatic weather reporting would all require equipment as appropriate to the needs of the operator.


12. Should I have an instrument approach to my Heliport/Vertiport?

In the case of scheduled Helicopter/Tiltrotor commuter or airline service, all-weather capability is essential to effectively servicing the market.

If an IFR demand is present and verified at private, hospital and general aviation facilities, a feasibility analysis for adding that capability should be performed. That analysis should include factoring in the site’s obstacles and determining the applicable minimums. If there are high obstacles in the immediate vicinity of the facility, the IFR minimums may be so high as to not be practical. Other issues to be considered are the interface with the current airspace structure, air traffic control issues and the amount of additional equipment that would be required, such as lights, differential global positioning system (DGPS) transmitters, and automated weather observation systems (AWOSs).


13. Can an instrument approach to a Heliport/Vertiport be developed and approved?

Yes. In the U.S., the FAA recently approved satellite-based GPS non-precision approaches to heliports as well as numerous airports. Ground equipment (differential receivers) that is being tested and installed will allow for Category I (normally 200’ceiling and ½-mile visibility) precision instrument approaches directly to or in the vicinity of the facility served.


14. Are Heliports/Vertiports expensive?

The greatest majority of domestic heliports/helistops are simple, inexpensive facilities. A daylight helistop can be established for less than a few hundred dollars for minimum markings and a windsock. Nighttime operations will require lighting and can range from $500 to several thousand dollars depending upon the source of electricity. Costs of larger facilities are in direct proportion to the real estate costs, and outlays for enhancements. Normal construction materials and techniques work very well for heliports. A full-service heliport with hangars, fuel, services and offices would cost no more than the same facilities being used for cars, trucks or other vehicles.


15. Are there lights specifically designed for Heliports/Vertiports?

The great majority of today’s facilities use lights that were designed for airports and adapted to the needs of heliports. The obstruction lights, perimeter lights, windsocks and floodlights that are available reflect this heritage. Most major aviation lighting manufacturers have heliport/vertiport lighting “packages” that meet the guidelines spelled out in the FAA Heliport and Vertiport Design Advisory Circulars (AC). There are numerous lighting systems that use conventional incandescent, electro-luminescent, fiber optic, light bar, LED, laser and cold cathode tube technologies. There are a number of good battery-powered lighting systems for temporary sites or sites isolated from a normal electrical power source.


16. Where are preferred Heliport/Vertiport locations?

The facility should be located and designed according to the needs of the users. Hospital sites generally like to have the heliport as close as practical to the emergency/trauma area for ease of patient transport. Corporate heliports are sometimes within walking distance or actually on the passenger destination buildings. City center intermodal facilities and convention centers are natural locations for the inclusion of a landing facility. Landing facilities at major airports are predominately in the general aviation area, which allows for direct access to corporate/charter aircraft, as well as direct interlining with airlines with appropriate security measures in place.

Strategically located Heliports/Vertiports can form a system that provides the needed link in city-center to city-center transportation, airport links and service to and from the passenger’s origination points and destinations.


17. Are Heliports/Vertiports quiet?

The sound levels of helicopters and tiltrotors are far below that of many accepted noise-producers in our environment. Trains, lawnmowers, vacuum cleaners, hairdryers, motorcycles, jet planes, buses, trucks, boats and cars all regularly produce noise levels higher than that which the average person would perceive from a helicopter or tiltrotor. The relative distance, nature and intensity of the noise generated, height above the ground, model of the aircraft and sound attenuation factors of the terrain between the source and the receptor are all factors in the way sound is perceived. Older, heavier military helicopters are very different from the modern, light, efficient and much quieter civil helicopters utilized in the vast majority of corporate and executive helicopter aviation.

It must be kept in mind that typical Heliport/Vertiport activity produces an extremely transitory sound. The entire sound event lasts for only approximately 45 seconds on landing or takeoff. At any one point along the flight route, providing the observer is close enough to hear or notice it, the helicopter will typically be heard for only 20 seconds or less. This compares very favorably to sounds already found in most neighborhoods. This is quite unlike other transportation uses such as streets, highways, interstate road systems, commuter and freight railroads and certain waterways, where the sound production is almost constant in many circumstances.

Special attention should be given to citing Heliports/Vertiports in areas or corridors where the sound inherently produced by other sources provides for a shielding or muffling effect upon the sounds of the helicopters. Heavily industrialized areas, especially large industrial/commercial campuses, make good sites for potential landing areas, owing to the ambient sounds generated by the land uses and the lack of sensitive receptors generally found in residential areas.

In essentially all metropolitan transportation systems there are clearly defined corridors of motor vehicle, train and waterborne traffic that allow for excellent ingress and egress routes. These freeways, highways, railroads and waterways, in addition to providing enough ambient sound to shield aircraft sounds, also offer an area of relatively unobstructed airspace that is likely to be long-lived.

The operators of the helicopters can also reduce the sounds of the helicopter significantly by the use of engineered sound-reduction techniques developed by essentially all the helicopter/tiltrotor manufacturers. This material has been widely distributed and promoted as part of the Helicopter Association International (HAI) “Fly Neighborly” program. Additional details on this program can be obtained from HAI.

Large research and development programs are continuing to design and manufacture even quieter helicopters. Some of the results of these programs to date are the NOTAR (no tail rotor) system, improved main and tail rotor designs, blade-tip speed reductions and quieter engines.


18. What are the exhaust emissions from helicopters/tiltrotors?

Helicopters and tiltrotor aircraft are predominately powered by gas turbine engines which produce very few pollutants. Much of this is due to the engine’s high-combustion temperatures and its ability to burn fuel very efficiently. The type of fuel utilized by these engines is high-quality jet fuel. Properly stored, dispensed and used, it meets the high Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards for use of such fuels. Those helicopters that are gasoline powered produce emissions that are very comparable to other similarly powered vehicles (i.e., cars, trucks and boats).


19. How safe are Heliports/Vertiports?

Nothing is more important to the residents of any community than the safety of themselves, their families and property. The FAA, using its own data and that of the National Transportation Safety Board, looked at the relative risk a community has in relationship to a helicopter landing area. The results of that study calculated that an accident has the frequency of occurring once every 432 years. That information and historical data reveal that typical helistop/heliports have a perfect safety record relative to any deaths or injuries to the general public.

The FAA and many of the state and local governments are very proactive when it comes to heliport/vertiport safety and the aircraft that land there. FAA regulations are very strict when it comes to unsafe actions by pilots and improper facilities.


20. Do Heliports/Vertiports affect property values for adjacent or nearby properties?

Historical studies as well as real estate appraisal guidelines indicate that property values are not affected due to the proximity of a heliport/helistop. One of the highest per capita income areas in the country, Somerset County, New Jersey, has a large number of private and corporate heliports within some of the finest and costliest estates in the county.


21. Are there any means for obtaining U.S. government funding for my Heliport/Vertiport?

If your facility is to be open to the general public, the FAA has Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funding available for the necessary studies, planning, land purchase and construction of Heliports/Vertiports. Many states have “block grant” FAA AIP funds in addition to their own monies for such development/improvements on publicly accessible landing sites. Many economic development agencies are also a source of potential funding. Contact with your local state aviation office, which can be found on HAI’s website (www.rotor.com), or the regional FAA airports office would yield specific information.


22. What steps are necessary to develop a Heliport/Vertiport?

The process to cite a heliport varies from place to place because of local regulations. However, one thing will always be the same, and that is the need to apply for an airspace study from the FAA. Consult with the airports office at the regional FAA. They will supply you with a current version of the Heliport or Vertiport Design Advisory Circulars (AC 150/5390-2B and AC 150/5390-3 respectively) and a copy of form 7480, which must be filed for an airspace review. The ACs are technical documents that cover design elements of Heliports/Vertiports and assume a basic understanding of helicopter and heliport operations. The design ACs also list the names, addresses and phone numbers of the various State Aviation Offices.

State aeronautical authorities vary dramatically in the amount of assistance that they can and will supply. A phone call to the appropriate state authority will provide you with that information. Some states require you to apply for a heliport permit from the state, some do not. Calling the state office will help you prepare for the process.

Most cities and unincorporated counties have requirements. Contact your local zoning department and inquire about the code where you plan to build your heliport. They will tell you the rules and what you must do, if anything, to meet local regulations.

The heliport/vertiport development process is an endeavor requiring knowledge and understanding of the process and the ability to address the numerous issues presented. A combination of sound technical planning work and effective public involvement is essential for the success of a facility application. Many heliport applications fail due to improper presentation and major defects in or lack of planning.


23. What developmental issues might I face with a heliport?

Numerous surveys, extensive field experience and recent case studies that were performed for the FAA and outlined in “Heliport/Vertiport Implementation Process-Case Studies” (DOT/FAA/ND-96/1) and “Six Heliport Case Studies” (DOT/FAA/ND-97/1) indicate:

A. The critical factor in heliport development is local government approval of the project. Almost all failed applications occur at this level irrespective of the type of heliport (i.e., public, private or hospital).

B. Local governments are highly influenced by voters, and the primary concerns voiced by the citizens are safety, noise, pollution, property value and quality of life. These issues need to be addressed from the very beginning of any project. The planning, community effect mitigation and public education process needs to be an integral part of the developmental process.

C. While there is no guarantee of success for a professionally prepared heliport/helistop application, many failed applications had fatal errors in their planning, design and presentation.


24. What are the challenges to finding help with my heliport/vertiport?

There are only a few non-salesmen people in the industry who provide truly objective and unbiased heliport/vertiport consulting services. It is important to take the time to interview your potential consultant to make sure the fit is right for you. Many heliport companies remain in business because they manufacture their own equipment and sell it as a package. This could end up costing you tens of thousands more than you need to spend. Ask for good faith quotes and a guarantee that the work will meet all FAA recommendations and local/state/federal guidelines.


25. Where can I turn for assistance in this process?

The author of this general information guidelines, Raymond A. Syms and Associates can provide real-life and hands on assistance with any or all of the typical heliport development on a professional basis and can be contacted at (732) 870-8883 or ray@raysyms.com.