Helipads and heliports

Helipads and heliports

The helicopter’s ability to travel long distances at high speed, take-off and land without a runway and maneuver in tight spaces makes them useful for a wide range of applications, including search and rescue, VIP transfers, air ambulance and more.


But these adaptable machines would not be able to operate safely without the use of helipads or heliports. While helicopters can land on almost any flat surface, it is not always practical or safe to do so.


That’s where helipads come into play, as they provide a safe space for helicopters to take off and land without inconveniencing the public. So, in this blog, we are going to look at the history and facts around these unsung heroes of aviation.


Helipad history


Despite being commonplace today, the helipad is actually a relatively new invention. The first purpose-built pads were constructed by the U.S. Army during the Korean War in the 1950s.


Early pads were used to evacuate soldiers injured on the frontline in the mountainous terrain of North Korea. The pads proved so successful their use was expanded during the Vietnam war to allow troops to be moved quickly around inaccessible jungle terrain.


Today there are estimated to be more than 15,000 heliports in use around the world. The UAE has the highest number of heliports per capita with an estimated in active use, supporting a fleet of 77 civil and 199 military helicopters.


What’s the difference between a helipad and a heliport?


Often the word heliport and helipad are used interchangeably, but they are actually two different things. A heliport is a fixed base operation that provides a range of services, including customs, maintenance, fuel bunkering and fire suppression.


A helipad, on the other hand, is simply a designated area where a helicopter can land safely. Helipads are typically found at hotels, private residences or hospitals, while heliports are usually found at airports.


What types of heliport are available?


Heliports are equipped to handle a specific size of aircraft. For example, a large city hospital may have a large integrated heliport, complete with landing lights that allow large air ambulance style aircraft to land day and night. A country house hotel or private residence, however, may only have a small designated area that can be used to transfer passengers. These are often made from grass, so are not suitable for heavy helicopters.


Heliports don’t have to be on dry land. Most large ships are equipped with a helipad complete with landing lights capable of supporting large search and rescue style helicopters.


Some private yachts are also equipped with a helipad, although these cannot be used while in port. Some of the largest superyachts are even equipped with a hanger and maintenance facilities to keep aircraft well maintained and secure while at sea.


Heliport airspace


A designated heliport is more than just an area for a helicopter to take off and land. The airspace surrounding the heliport is also considered part of the heliport itself. Together, these two areas are known as the Primary Surface.


The Primary Surface consists of a Touchdown and Liftoff (TLOF) area, which provides space for the aircraft to take off and land. The Final Approach and Takeoff (FATO) area is the airspace surrounding the TLOF where the pilot makes his final approach.


What is the best material for constructing a heliport?


Traditionally, steel and concrete were used to construct heliports, but in recent years, this has been superseded by aluminum. Aluminum allows heliports to be constructed on top of buildings, the decks of ships, oil rigs and even private residences.


But you can make a heliport from any hard surface; even grass. However, the material chosen should be suitable for the type and size of aircraft in use. A large multi-engine helicopter such as a Sikorsky S76 can land on grass but a paved area is more suitable.


If you would like help designing or installing a new heliport or helipad, get in touch with our aviation specialists today. We have more than 20 years of experience completing aviation projects across the globe, with more than 1300 projects completed to date. Complete the contact form for more information.