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Recently we were in London and noticed how so many helicopter rides were there. While booking a ride I found out that they do not take a child under 4 years of age, none of the Heli ride companies I found in London allowed any child under 4 to take their rides.

So we were unable to take that ride since our child is 3 years old. I was wondering why is it unsafe for children to fly in a heli when the same or much younger children fly in a commercial airliner all over the world all the time?

Obviously I do not question their judgment and I do appreciate their concern for safety I just would like to know what makes it unsafe so we can prepare accordingly before taking that ride when he is 4.

I have been in helicopters I do not find them particularly challenging for a passenger. Could the primary reason be that these heli tours are not ordinary flight from A to B, they do quite some sprints and sharp turns up there to add to the fun.

Edit

Some references to support the question

Must be 4 or over, under 16’s must be accompanied by an adult.

HeliAir


No children under the age of 4 are permitted to fly with us.

RedHill Helicopters


No children under the age of four are permitted to fly with us.

The London Helicopter


Minimum age: 4 (under 16s must be accompanied by a paying adult)

Virgin Experience Days

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    $\begingroup$ I am 100% sure that the pilots of these pleasure flights do everything thy can to avoid "sprints and sharp turns" - generally that is a surefire way to get your passengers to not enjoy their flight and result in your clearing up sick from the cabin. $\endgroup$ – Jamiec Sep 11 '17 at 10:09
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    $\begingroup$ It's not so much sprints or sharp turns as the problem with seat belts or rather the lack thereof for infants. Any craft that can encounter sudden speed or directional changes needs some method to secure passengers. Since you can't use a normal seat belt on an infant, well... $\endgroup$ – Adwaenyth Sep 11 '17 at 14:00
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    $\begingroup$ I imagine there are some convenience factors involved. Yes, young children fly on commercial airlines as a matter of course, but do their fellow passengers generally appreciate having them? $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Sep 11 '17 at 16:49
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    $\begingroup$ @jamesqf interestingly they sure do love the one I have. On the take off roll he is always like 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 lift off. And I always hear people laugh on that $\endgroup$ – Hanky Panky Sep 11 '17 at 16:53
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    $\begingroup$ Some people laughing is not (necessarily) quite the same thing as fellow passengers' general appreciation. $\endgroup$ – Darren Ringer Sep 13 '17 at 13:17
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A few notes of update.

  • Evidence from other operators that there is no hard age limit

There is no upper or lower age limit for pleasure flight however we recommend that children under 12 are accompanied by an adult. Central Helicopters T&C

Generally anyone can be a passenger on a pleasure flight. Young children should be accompanied by an adult. Hields Aviation FAQ

  • GUIDANCE FOR EVENT ORGANISERS AND HELICOPTER OPERATORS AT SPECIAL EVENTS covers Local flights (They call it A to A) and makes no special mention of minimum or maximum age limits. You can be fairly sure this document would be where any such specification would be made. Along with CAP 789, which is linked below, which also has no special mention of age limits for flights on helicopters

It is very hard to prove a negative, but I hope this is enough to convince you. Operators are under no obligation to justify their rules.


Original answer follows:

There is nothing inherently stopping an infant taking a flight on board a helicopter.

I suspect this has everything to do with the operators of these flights do not have the equipment to properly ensure the security and safety of infants.

Airlines typically provide extender belts for infants on laps. They also have provision for dealing with emergency situations with infants on board. This is because it is what their customers require and makes commercial sense to provide those services.

CAP 789 (which is guidance for operators) has something to say about this (emphasis mine)

EU-OPS, JAR-OPS 3 and the ANO require the aircraft commander to ensure that at certain times each passenger on board occupies a seat or berth with his safety belt (or harness where provided) properly secured. These regulations also require the aircraft commander to ensure that multiple occupancy of seats does not occur except by one adult and one infant who is properly secured by a supplementary loop belt or other restraint device.

The clientele of helicopter pleasure flights probably do not regularly require bringing infants aboard. So there is little requirement or commercial pressure for them to do so.

The "must be 4 years of age" is quite possibly entirely arbitrary - in that they are probably large enough to use the standard harnesses/belts/noise protection provided. Operators probably do not routinely carry things like infant noise protection, and helicopters are noisy environments.

Some child restraint systems used in cars are appropriate for use in aircraft, and some operators may have allowed you to bring your car child seat on board for use with your infant (More info is available here). You would need to call around a few operators to find out.

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    $\begingroup$ BTW I fly from a London aerodrome where many of these London sightseeing helicopter flights are operated from. I can ask around if you still want to go. $\endgroup$ – Jamiec Sep 11 '17 at 10:06
  • $\begingroup$ Wish I had asked this question earlier but unfortunately I am not in the UK right now. Thank you so much for your offer of assistance. Maybe during the Winter Holidays we can :) $\endgroup$ – Hanky Panky Sep 11 '17 at 10:11
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    $\begingroup$ Winter is not the time to take pleasure flights over London - unless you like looking at clouds and rain :) $\endgroup$ – Jamiec Sep 11 '17 at 10:12
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    $\begingroup$ @GdD you're totally right. I fly VFR conditions throughout the winter. But for any sort of experience flight at any time of year you need to be prepared to be cancelled/postponed - often more than once. The number of people I see on these sort of things getting annoyed that they've been cancelled, often with short notice, is incredible. I sometimes wonder if they'd prefer the pilot to fly them in bumpy conditions where they see/experience nothing of any interest. $\endgroup$ – Jamiec Sep 11 '17 at 12:38
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    $\begingroup$ One other reason may well be that the hearing protection just will not fit, and Heli are not in general the worlds quietest aircraft. $\endgroup$ – Dan Mills Sep 11 '17 at 17:03
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Helicopters are loud. A few web searches suggest that the volume inside an airliner is 85-105 decibels but as much as 115 db in a helicopter. (Decibels are a log scale, so 115 is a lot more than 105, and the 105 is generally just during takeoff and landing.)

Hearing loss from loud noises may be a greater risk at younger ages.

Aside from the fact that infants may perceive a sound as much higher – up to 20 dB louder – than an older child or an adult (NYT), young kids can’t always articulate the fact that their ears are hurting them. (http://blog.pksafety.com/sound-advice-earmuffs-for-kids/)

The sound isolating headphones provided inside the helicopter may not be appropriate for infant heads because of their size and weight. The skull isn't fully fused until about age two. The brain grows rapidly until about age four, when it approaches its maximum size. (Infant ear mufflers are becoming more and more common. They are very lightweight.)

By age four, I'd expect a kid would be aware and coordinated enough to cover their ears if the sound were uncomfortably loud. They're probably also better able to express themselves if the volume became a problem. By age four, the provided headphones might be a better fit.

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  • $\begingroup$ Turboprops, which many airlines use on smaller routes, tend to be 10-30 db louder than a normal jet. I've never heard of small children being banned from those. $\endgroup$ – T.E.D. Sep 12 '17 at 15:59
  • $\begingroup$ @T.E.D. 10-30 db louder inside the cabin? It seems all passengers would need hearing protection. $\endgroup$ – Adrian McCarthy Sep 12 '17 at 23:56
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    $\begingroup$ I don't know exactly how much louder but yes turboprops are much louder. I have flown in an ATR many times and the noise level is far higher than lets say A330 $\endgroup$ – Hanky Panky Sep 13 '17 at 8:09
  • $\begingroup$ @AdrianMcCarthy - Yes (to both). $\endgroup$ – T.E.D. Sep 13 '17 at 13:16
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When my son was about 1 we took him on a helicopter ride over Amsterdam Airport. He did not like the noise at first but became fascinated by the rotor blades turning and quickly settled down. There was no issue with taking him on board for that ride, they provided a strap-on kiddy belt that slips into the safety belt of the parent holding the child.

Helicopter view of Uluru
Image source

You can book your under 2 for a helicopter ride to see Uluru. No safety issues there.

So I can provide a sample of a situation where it was allowed - if safety regulations are adhered to, I cannot think of one single reason for prohibiting an under 4 to take a helicopter ride.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks! Don't know why someone down-voted this relevant answer $\endgroup$ – Hanky Panky Sep 11 '17 at 10:25
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    $\begingroup$ Not me but I dont think "<anecdote>" followed by "I don't know the answer" is actually a valuable/relevant answer to the question. $\endgroup$ – Jamiec Sep 11 '17 at 10:26
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    $\begingroup$ @Jamiec Well, I'm providing a sample of a situation where it was allowed, which indicates that it is not a universal rule. $\endgroup$ – Koyovis Sep 11 '17 at 10:33
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    $\begingroup$ Nobody ever said it was a universal rule. The question was about the safety aspect of infants on a helicopter, and reasons why they might be prohibited by operators. As well as preparations for future taking small children onboard. $\endgroup$ – Jamiec Sep 11 '17 at 10:34
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, I cannot think of one single reason, and did not feel irresponsible as a parent at the time. $\endgroup$ – Koyovis Sep 11 '17 at 10:40
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Good answers here, but I might add it could also just be that the operator does not want to deal with the occasional unruly toddler loose in the cabin, pulling on and breaking stuff and potentially interfering with the pilot / flight controls.

Further there is the run-away kid in the vicinity of the aircraft when boarding and exiting on the ground to worry about. Insurance coverage may also play a big role here.

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    $\begingroup$ This seems on target. The "Terrible Twos" really lasts up to age 3 for many children, and during this time, commands from a parent are often met with a defiant "NO!" and non-compliance with the order. Tantrums abound. As Trevor points out, this leads to horrendous safety issues, if a child suddenly bolts across the tarmac, into areas where only flight crew and maintenance crew are supposed to be, it creates all sorts of safety issues for the child and others. On top of that, one or both parents will then be running after the child, compounding the issues. Age 4 is past most of this. $\endgroup$ – Developer63 Sep 13 '17 at 17:53
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    $\begingroup$ @Developer63 Why does it lead to safety issues only in the UK? and not in the US for example. Over there even a lap child is allowed in the Heli $\endgroup$ – Hanky Panky Sep 14 '17 at 4:39
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    $\begingroup$ @HankyPanky Health & Safety in the UK is, from my understanding, a fair bit more strict than our general safety laws in the US, and is also probably far more uniform in areas like this. Besides, everyone knows those British kids are absolute terrors while American children are all complete angels. /sarcasm $\endgroup$ – FreeMan Sep 14 '17 at 12:24
  • $\begingroup$ It's pretty strict here in Australia as well, yet Ozzie under 4s are allowed on board helicopter sightseeing flights. $\endgroup$ – Koyovis Sep 15 '17 at 10:42
  • $\begingroup$ @HankyPanky my comment was a hypothesis towards reverse-engineering the most plausible rationale. I was blissfully unaware of USA/UK/Aus differences. A coworker today mentioned he went on a helicopter ride in Maui, HI, USA with his 18 month old son, who had his own seat. Puzzling, yes; one explanation could be that London's long history of insurance, rating everything under the sun (e.g., Lloyd's of London), plus a higher ease of filing lawsuits, prevailing, and collecting, could be a factor, with the outcome that insurance for the tour operator costs less if children < 4 are excluded. $\endgroup$ – Developer63 Sep 16 '17 at 2:35
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Self answer posted after the experience:

Why Yes it is important!

1 year flew past so fast. Our son is now 4+ and we were table to take him on a heli ride in London this time. I can now see why there is that practice (at least generally in the UK)

  1. First reason is the fact that a smaller child will not be able to enjoy the views outside, our captain used padding below his seat to make him sit a little higher so he could see outside. Without that it would have been a boring 45 minutes ride for a small child which could complicate the flight. Why so?
  2. Because it is extremely important that all passengers keep their seat belts fastened during the flight. If a small child has a boredom attack half way through and wants to be in your lap that is not going to sit fine with the pilot. For infants that is not such a big problem but for children who do have some personality this could be a problem, which causes another problem:
  3. Headsets! A Heli is loud and it vibrates and not all helis are equipped with aircon. 30 minutes into the flight our son started saying he wants to take off his headset and despite all our requests he still did it and while trying to convince him not to do that i had to take off my headset for a second and boy was it loud?

    Specially during landings and take offs the headset needs to remain on and smaller children have a tendency of ignoring their parents' instructions when they matter the most. Older children would be a little easier to handle.

I don't know if it is a rule or not but it is indeed a good practice. This was correctly guessed by a few answers specially the one by @mins.

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In any small aircraft everyone aboard, including animals, must be secured in the following ways:

  1. They must be fastened to a seat
  2. Their hearing must be protected
  3. They must be continent

Achieving these 3 prerequisites is more difficult for children and the younger they are, the more problematic it is.

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  • $\begingroup$ Tyler that makes sense but the confusing part is that in the USA where you are, there is no such restriction. Some US heli tour operators even say Children 0-1 years are free. That 4 year reasoning is something specific to the UK it looks like $\endgroup$ – Hanky Panky Sep 14 '17 at 4:35
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    $\begingroup$ I've never been a "continuous expanses of land" in an aircraft. $\endgroup$ – Jamiec Sep 14 '17 at 7:47
  • $\begingroup$ @HankyPanky These are not legal restrictions, they are practical restrictions. $\endgroup$ – Tyler Durden Sep 14 '17 at 10:38
  • $\begingroup$ @TylerDurden you were right indeed. Belated +1 $\endgroup$ – Hanky Panky Jul 18 '18 at 6:23
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There doesn't seem to have strong reasons for not accepting young children in helicopters. There are companies that don't have this 4-year limit:

All ages from 1 month to 100 years are welcomed for our helicopter sightseeing tour.

Source: Niagara Helicopters in Ontario (part of Helicopter Transport Services)

My guess is for a tour flight, all passengers have headphones, and the infant could feel quite isolated. Add to this the unusual feeling of being airborne, and infants may not like it at all.

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