Site Owners

Helicopter Landing Site Compliance

The instructions in this article are aimed at English-speaking aviation regions

Helicopter Landing Sites and Duty of Care

Helipaddy believes that safety and noise are two of the greatest challenges for off-airfield landings at unlicensed private locations (defined as helicopter Landing Sites or HLS’s by the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority).  As such, the Helipaddy landing site database is designed to help both pilots and landing site owners address these issues.

The regulators deal with aircraft and licensed landing sites but not with private unlicensed HLS’s, unless they are being used for commercial transport in which case they must have an up-to-date survey. Thus most HLS’s remain unregulated and are governed by the law of the territory in which they are located. This is usually English law, even for many locations outside England. The main part of law that applies is that of tort, in particular trespass and the duty of care. Owners of landing sites that accept helicopters (or indeed any visitors, even on foot or by car, for that matter) will need to be familiar with these areas of law.  Most private unlicensed HLS operators are hotels and will be fully aware of these obligations as regards their buildings but possibly less so as regards their landing sites.

English tort law concerns the compensation for harm to people’s rights to health and safety, a clean environment, property, their economic interests, or their reputations and forms one of the three main pillars of the law of obligations between volunteering parties.

Trespass to land involves the “unjustifiable interference with land which is in the immediate and exclusive possession of another”; it is both a tort and, in certain circumstances, a crime. It is not necessary to prove that harm was suffered to bring a claim. While most trespasses to land are intentional, the courts have decided that it could also be committed negligently – accidental trespass also incurs liability.  The airspace above the land is excluded as long as you are flying at a reasonable height.

Duty of care is sometimes owed by the HLS to the pilot to ensure that they do not suffer any unreasonable harm or loss. If such a duty is found to be breached, a legal liability of negligence is imposed upon the HLS to compensate the victim for any losses they incur, even if they are strangers with no contract. The duty of care cannot be delegated to a third party or insured away under English law.

There are usually 5 elements required to exist to prove negligence and these are Duty, Breach of Duty, Cause in Fact, Proximate Cause, Damages.  Helipaddy recommends all site owners to familiarise themselves with these elements and keep a risk assessment of the HLS maintained.  The UK’s Health and Safety Executive provides some guidance on how to assess risk in terms of the likelihood and consequence of incidents.

Duty – arises when the law recognizes a relationship between the site owner and the pilot requiring the HLS owner to act in a certain manner toward the pilot. A judge will usually find that a duty exists if a reasonable person would find that a duty exists under a particular set of circumstances.  If the HLS owner didn’t know the pilot was arriving (so was trespassing), it is possible a court would be less likely to find that the HLS owner owed a duty. 

Breach of Duty – it’s not enough for a pilot to prove that the HLS owner owed him or her or a duty; the pilot must also prove that the HLS owner breached his or her duty to the pilot. A HLS owner breaches such a duty by failing to exercise reasonable care in fulfilling the duty and is decided by a jury as a question of fact. 

Cause in Fact  – under the traditional rules in negligence cases, a pilot must prove that the HLS owner’s actions were the actual cause of the pilot’s injury. This is often referred to as “but-for” causation, meaning that, but for the HLS owner’s actions, the pilot’s injury would not have occurred.

Proximate Cause – a HLS owner in a negligence case is only responsible for those harms that the HLS owner could have foreseen through his or her actions. If a HLS owner has caused damages that are outside of the scope of the risks that the HLS owner could have foreseen, then the pilot cannot prove that the HLS owner’s actions were the proximate cause of the pilot’s damages.

Damages – the pilot in a negligence case must prove a legally recognized harm, usually in the form of physical injury to a person or to property. It’s not enough that the HLS owner failed to exercise reasonable care. The failure to exercise reasonable care must result in actual damages to a person to whom the HLS owner owed a duty of care.

Many HLS’s insist on combinations of prior permission (PPR), insurance indemnities and landing fees.  However, none of these directly assist an HLS in proving that proper care was taken and, in the case of PPR and fees, possibly increase the liability for the HLS owner.  Helipaddy recommend that HLS owners take legal advice before implementing landing fees and/or PPR rules.

A risk management policy is a useful tool for an HLS to manage the exposure to negligence.  The level of detail in a risk assessment should be proportionate to the risk and appropriate to the nature of the situation. Insignificant risks can usually be ignored, as can risks arising from routine activities associated with life in general.  The risk assessment should only include what you could reasonably be expected to know – you are not expected to anticipate unforeseeable risks.  A good example might be the effect of a tall building on wind.  There have been cases where the failure to carry out a proper risk assessment could indirectly cause an injury and, if the litigating pilot could prove this, they would succeed in establishing liability.  A risk assessment should be seen as an active and living document whereby risks are regularly considered and safeguards implemented.  HLS owners will appreciate the need for pilots to have appropriate levels of information and the preventive and protective measures should reflect the risks that pilots are taking by coming to the landing site.

Here are some examples of hazards and their associated risks but, in reality, every HLS is very different.  Each hazard and the associated check should be signed and dated and the overall assessment should be approved by the owner to ensure that the hazards have been identified.  The risk is defined by estimating the likelihood and the consequences.

The British Helicopter Association provide some technical guidance on how to set up a good landing area and this is summarised as follows in respect of non-commercial flights:

  • As a rough guide allow 2 tennis courts per helicopter, assuming there is a safe and noise friendly approach in to the site.  1 acre is equivalent to 16 tennis courts or 8 helicopters.
  • Provided the intended helicopter landing site is not within a congested area (an area in relation to a city, town or settlement which is substantially used for residential, industrial, commercial or recreational purposes) or close to an open air assembly of 1000 or more people it is only necessary for the landowner to grant permission to the helicopter operator to use the site
  • Responsibility for the safety of helicopter-flying operations lies wholly with the helicopter operator
  • Privately operated helicopters, although not bound by law to conform, are nevertheless advised to exercise caution when using unlicensed sites at night. It is recommended that owners adopt the same standards as for public transport operations.
  • In the UK helicopters are required to operate from licensed sites only if they are conducting scheduled services or if they are being used for ab initio pilot training. All other flights, apart from training flights, do not attract the legal requirement to operate from licensed heliports.
  • Sites used in conjunction with special events at which less than 100 movements are anticipated, even though not requiring a licence, should nevertheless be notified to the CAA and may be inspected on the day of the event by Flight Operations Inspectors. Whether licensed or not, sites should only be selected which take full account of the performance requirements of all helicopter types likely to operate the site.
  • For all single-engine types the recommended take-off profile starts from a low hover,  is accelerated close to the ground until the safe climb speed (about 40/50 kts) is reached, at which stage the aircraft is climbed away maintaining this speed. The distance varies with aircraft type and wind conditions. The first one third of the take-off distance should be at least 30 metres wide and the surface must be relatively firm and flat and free from all obstacles. The remaining two thirds of the Take-off Distance Available, may contain insignificant or frangible obstacles within it, such that the aircraft, in the event of failure of the power unit, can force land without hazard to the occupants of the helicopter and without endangering persons or property on the surface. It is assumed that in the event of a power unit failure occurring from the time the aircraft moves away from the hover until it reaches 100 feet, that the ensuing forced landing will be made without any significant changes in aircraft direction being attempted.
  • The ground should be firm and substantially level and free from loose articles. Helicopter downwash is proportional to the weight and size of the machine producing it. The effect on nearby structures and people can be considerable. The area downwind of the helicopter is worst affected. In any case it is recommended that, whilst the helicopter is manoeuvring in a low hover, no object should be permitted closer than 1.5 x Rotor Diameter or 30 metres from the centre line of the helicopter, whichever is the greater.
  • It is strongly recommended that the touchdown/liftoff area should be located 30 metres or more away from buildings to avoid downwash and noise
  • In general an ad hoc helicopter site will not attract the need for planning consent unless there is a change of use. For example, in the UK if it is intended for use on more than 28 days in any calendar year. However, if any permanent structure is erected in connection with its use as a helicopter site, such as a hangar or hard standing, or if individual local council policies so demand, it may be necessary to obtain planning consent. For those sites intended for irregular, periodic use and for sites in congested areas it is also necessary that the local police are informed of any intended flying activity.

19 thoughts on “Helicopter Landing Site Compliance

  1. Sarah Ingram says:

    We live on a farm and we have a neighbour who repeatedly flies too low over our land to the point that he almost lands. It’s just a joke to him and it has been happening for years and years. Now the pilots 5 children are learning to fly helicopters and are all practising landing and takeoff over our land. We have had lots of banter and apologies by the neighbour. We have now got to the point that his helicopters are terrifying our horses on a regular basis. The owners brother has supposedly lost his licence and he was a total lunatic in a helicopter, they are all lunatics in cars on on high powered motorbikes and probably trying to intimidate us out so that they can purchase our land.
    The point is How many times a year can you land a helicopter on your own property.
    They have several helicopters and several training helicopters taking off and landing sometimes 10/12 times in a weekend and we have just had enough.
    Last weekend 14th April 2024 they nearly nocked the chimney off our house and terrified our horses as they hovered low over our stables then flew sideways over our horses grazing in our fields. The owner apologised yet again but its almost daily now ?
    We have so much footage but it is such a pain to send it you would be inundated.

    1. helipaddy one says:

      Hi Sarah, what is the registration of the helicopter?

  2. L Harby says:

    Re a regular commercial transport helicopter.

    Can a change of direction to regular landing/take off path be enforced owing to a new residential development which is subject to ‘fly over’ at low level and within a two lane road width from the helipad?
    Thank you

    1. helipaddy one says:

      Dear Lynette
      There could well be some precedent case law, but my guess would be that the developer wouldn’t be able to force a rerouting because/if they developed the site in the full knowledge of the pre-existing route.

  3. David McDonald says:

    Hi, do I have to notify local Police, Fire and Ambulance services of landings at a remote hotel helipad? Is there any legal duty to have crash/fire plans or equipment?

    1. helipaddy one says:

      No you don’t in the UK, just landowner’s approval and they don’t need to notify the services either. The equipment you describe isn’t a legal obligation. It might be obligatory in order to comply with insurance conditions on a case by case basis.
      These rules can change if there are a large number ie more than 10 movements in a day eg due to an event.

  4. Old Hangars says:

    We are located on an old airfield – with Hangars. Can we have have any UK domestic helicopters land here? Do we need planning permission? Are we restricted to the number of landings/take offs? Anything we need to apply for? No roads close by. Any help gratefully received as to where to look/apply etc!

    1. helipaddy one says:

      Normally airfields have specific permission for helicopters. Assuming yours doesn’t then the 28-day rule is the relevant one, which is explained in the article. This is the same rule for caravans and not to do with helicopters specifically. If you want more frequent landings then email me at and I can give you some specific guidance.

  5. Ian Harvey says:

    Is there a legal requirement for helicopter landsings to be a certain distance from a public road?

    1. helipaddy one says:

      Article 240 of the Air Navigation Order prohibits aircraft from taking off or landing at a place in the UK unless it is either an aerodrome licensed for the takeoff and landing of such aircraft by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), or a site which is not in a congested area and where the flight can be made without creating any hazard to persons or property.

      The term “congested area” in relation to a city, town, or settlement means any area which is substantially used for residential, industrial, commercial, or recreational purposes. Landing near a road not in a congested area is possible if it does not present any hazard to the public or property and if it adheres to the rules for landing at unlicensed sites, including obtaining any necessary permissions from the landowner and ensuring the safety of the landing site.

  6. Chokora Mhango says:

    Hi. Can a private helicopter on private land park overnight?

    1. helipaddy one says:

      The law that is relevant is to do with property rather than aviation, so yes, all that is required is landowner’s permission. To that extent it is the same as a car being left overnight in the hotel car park. What you have to remember is that you have a duty of care, just as you do with cars. We strongly suggest you complete the Helipaddy 360 Survey at and also have a look at Helipad Owner articles at

    2. Frances Dawson says:

      Good evening,
      A question on a private helicopter landing within a residential area. We live near the landowners building site, about 20/30 metres away. The helicopter lands on the building site ( he is the landowner). The helicopter landed at dusk on uneven ground, with a lot of building materials lying around. Pedestrians and dog walkers etc were about 20 metres away. Is this legal? Is there an aviation safety group that can be notified?

      1. helipaddy one says:

        As the pilot was landing the 500 ft rule doesn’t apply. The parts of law that may apply would be reckless operation of an aircraft (similar to dangerous driving), or negligence.

        1. Frances Dawson says:

          What organisation can we contact if we believe that the helicopter is being reckless?

        2. helipaddy one says:

          In the UK you would contact the CAA who can investigate incidents of unsafe flying. Examples include a helicopter landing in a place that puts people or property in danger. However, in the situation you describe, the pilot was landing on their own property and that CAA may not investigate.

  7. V Pritchard says:

    Are there any guidelines for a private property rented out for holiday / party use. Advertising a helicopter landing pad. Which would be in very close proximity to a RUPP/Bridleway. And other properties

    1. Paddy Wills says:

      The proximity to the RUPP is a noise issue unless you exceed the 28-day rule (when frequent landings would be a planning issue). You also have to be outside a congested area (eg a village) or else pilots have to obtain special permission from the CAA and also use only certain types of helicopter. If you submit your site to Helipaddy, the team will be able to advise.

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