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3 Tips To Effectively Brief Helicopter Passengers Before Flight

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By Jennifer Caron, FAA Safety Briefing Magazine

We’ve all heard the stories of passengers walking into spinning propellers or rotor blades, often with fatal consequences. Helicopter pilots need to be acutely aware of how their passengers approach and depart from the aircraft — always from the front and never from the rear — especially while the rotors are in operation.

Video thumbnail.
Video thumbnail.

It is your responsibility as the pilot in command to give your passengers a complete pre-flight briefing to ensure: that they have a level of understanding about what your plan for the flight is, know what they can and cannot do during the flight, know when it’s okay to speak, the dangers of the rotors, how to safely enter and exit the aircraft to avoid rotating helicopter blades, and in case of an emergency, how to egress a damaged helicopter safely.

Whether it’s a non-aviator on their first or four hundredth flight with you, or even if it’s another pilot along for the ride, be sure to provide a thorough pre-flight briefing to every passenger. It could mean the difference between a safe flight and a disaster.

Here are three tips you can use to give your passengers a complete and effective pre-flight briefing to enjoy the flight safely:

1. Pre-flight the Flight

Your pre-flight passenger briefing starts inside the office or FBO. Question them upfront about any previous helicopter experience, and remind them never to let their guard down — even if they’ve flown in helicopters before. They are most likely not familiar with walking around helicopters. Make sure they’re aware of the two rotor systems and be frank about the dangers of the tail rotors. Tell them that they must secure loose items while still inside the office or FBO and to pay close attention to the safety of others, especially children. Ask questions to verify their understanding.

2. Get and Keep Their Attention

Photo of briefing.
Photo of briefing.

Before resuming your passenger brief inside the helicopter, wait until the disruptions (excitement and noise) subside so they can better focus on your instructions. It will also help to ensure they retain the information. Show them how to secure luggage and straps from carry-ons, so they remain clear of flight controls, critical switches, and fuel shutoff valves. Have them practice with seatbelts and other safety equipment, such as retrieving life vests.

As a pilot, you are generally accustomed to egressing rotorcraft, and you will often survive helicopter accidents while your passengers may perish. Keep in mind that your passengers are in an unfamiliar environment, and emergencies may shock them into frozen inaction. Emphasize their responsibility to remain always focused on safety.

3. Include The Following Instructions In Every Passenger Briefing

Photo of helicopter.
Photo of helicopter.

Do not approach the helicopter until the pilot or an approved marshaller can take you safely to the aircraft. Stay within the pilot’s field of vision while approaching the helicopter, and NEVER approach the tail boom or move behind the rear door. Enter the helicopter as briefed.

  • Wait until the rotors have stopped before emergency egress unless there is smoke or fire.
  • Practice headset operations and understand the sterile cockpit concept.
  • NEVER throw or drop anything from a helicopter. Secure all personal items.
  • Keep safety belts snuggly fastened during the entire flight.
  • Be aware of the first aid kit, emergency beacon, and fire extinguisher location, removal, and operation.
  • Know the location of life preservers and usage and NEVER inflate them until clear of the aircraft.
  • After landing, wait for marshalling personnel to open the doors, release safety belts, and guide passengers away from the helicopter.
Photo of seatbelt instructions.
Photo of seatbelt instructions.

Bonus Tips

🚁 Use a checklist or “cheat sheet” to remember important items when your thoughts are focused on other aspects of the flight.

🚁 Ask another pilot to listen to your briefing. Many of us forget items when we repeat a memorized script.

🚁 Record yourself while you’re doing the briefing to add items or find ways to improve.

🚁 NEVER let a passenger pressure you into flying into a risky situation. It is your license and your life too.

For more tips and safety information on topics such as preflight inspections, helicopter icing, and securing cargo, check out the Rotorcraft Collective video series at bit.ly/RotorCollective.

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This article was originally published in the January/February 2022 issue of FAA Safety Briefing magazine. https://www.faa.gov/news/safety_briefing/
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Cleared for Takeoff

Voices, stories and news from the Federal Aviation Administration

Cleared for Takeoff

Voices, stories and news from the Federal Aviation Administration

FAA Safety Briefing

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Official FAA safety policy voice for general aviation. Part of the national FAA Safety Team (FAASTeam).

Cleared for Takeoff

Voices, stories and news from the Federal Aviation Administration