A helicopter tour in Nepal is a quick and fun way to explore remote mountain destinations. As such, knowing what to expect will help you get the most out of the tour. Here are some points to note:
Getting in and out of the helicopter
Most of the time, you will board a helicopter while the rotors are still running. As such, it is essential to remain in the pilot’s field of view and wait for the pilot’s visual acknowledgment before doing anything.
The area towards the helicopter’s tail rotor is hazardous, and you should never approach or leave a helicopter from that side.
Other things to keep in mind are:
- Make sure the helipad is clear of loose articles and secure your personal items.
- Proceed in a crouching manner when you approach the helicopter.
- Hold onto your hats and other loose items like scarves.
- Do not run after these items in case they get blown away.
- On sloping ground, always approach and leave on the down-slope side for maximum rotor clearance.
- If blinded by dust, stop, crouch, and wait for assistance.
- Carry all tools and bags below waist level. Never carry stuff on your shoulders.
During the Flight
Once inside the helicopter, here are some things to keep in mind:
- First, put on the headsets so you can communicate with each other and the pilot.
- Keep your seat belts fastened.
- Do not change seats in mid-flight.
- Do not smoke inside the cabin.
Clothing and other essential items
Weather changes rapidly in the mountains. As you will be going to high-altitudes quickly, you will feel the difference. Therefore, please have the following items with you:
- Good sunglasses. They will protect your eyes from UV radiation, snow blindness, and the inevitable swirl of dust.
- Sunscreen. The level of UV radiation is very high at high altitudes. Therefore, sunscreen will protect your face from sunburn.
- Windstopper. It can get pretty windy up in the mountains. A Windstopper keeps you warm.
- Warm Clothing. Depending upon the temperature at the target location, make sure to wear a down jacket/pants or fleece jacket.
- Buff. You will be hit with a lot of dust while a heli approaches. Buffs will help you protect your face.
- Warm Hat.
Please avoid neck scarves and loose hats that can easily get blown away by the downwash from the helicopter. In case any item gets blown away, do not run after it.
Given that you will spend limited time at high altitudes, the chance of Altitude related illnesses is low. However, you cannot rule it out completely. Altitude Illnesses becomes more important during multi-day heli tours.
Some of the measures we undertake during our single-day heli tours are:
- Helicopters always carry an oxygen backup in case of emergencies.
- Ground time, especially at high-altitude destinations, is limited to 10 minutes.
- Pilots usually keep the engine running at high altitudes during touchdown.
As for multi-day helicopter tours, we undertake the following precautions.
- Above 3,000 meters / 10,000 feet, we limit altitude gain between night stops to 5,00 meters / 1,600 feet. As such, if you wish to stay a night at Hotel Everest View (3,880 meters / 12,700 feet), you have to stay a night at Lukla (2,860 meters / 9,400 feet) and then another night at Namche (3,440 meters / 11,300 meters).
- Supplemental oxygen will be available at all night stops.
- We recommend people with sickle cell disease, pulmonary hypertension, obesity hypoventilation syndrome, recent carotid surgery, congenital heart problems, and pregnancy to avoid heli tours to high altitudes.
What kind of helicopters are used in Nepal?
Most of the helicopters used in Nepal are of the Airbus AS350 Ecureuil kind. The Ecureuil’s powerful engine and low maintenance cost make it the perfect helicopter for Nepal. Actually, the B3 variant of this helicopter has the distinction of landing at the peak of Mount Everest!
Some other less powerful helicopters used in Nepal are the Bell 206 JetRanger, Robinson R44, and Robinson R66.
How many people fit in a helicopter?
The Ecureuil can fit up to 7 people, including the pilot. However, after the Air Dynasty helicopter crash in Taplejung, these helicopters are only allowed to carry five passengers and one pilot in Nepal.
Another factor to consider is the target altitude. The higher the altitude and hotter the temperature, the lower the passenger capacity.
The general rule of thumb is that there will be five passengers unless the helicopter needs to climb to a very high altitude, like when doing the Cho La Pass.
Things you need to know about shuttles during a heli tour
Altitude puts even more limitations on the take-off weight. As such, a helicopter will not be able to take all five passengers to Kala Patthar at the same time.
Instead, it will stop at Pheriche (4,200 meters) to drop three people and take the remaining two passengers to Kala Patthar. After the two people are done sightseeing at Kala Patthar, the helicopter comes back for the three passengers and then takes them to Kala Patthar. After they are done, the helicopter picks up everyone and returns to Lukla.
As such, if there is someone you need to be with when the heli lands at Kala Patthar, make sure you stay together.
The most critical issues when it comes to heli tours are wind and visibility. While helicopters do not have the visibility requirements of an aircraft, they still need to see where they are going. Another important factor is wind, and a helicopter will have difficulty landing in high winds. Also, please note that that the weather can change rapidly in the mountains.
What this means for us is that:
- Given that the weather is generally clear and stable during the mornings, we like to finish heli flights to high altitudes before noon.
- Delays are not just possible but likely. So make sure to have an early breakfast before heading to the helipad. Rarely, we might have to reschedule the flight for the next day. Extra accommodation and meal costs will be the responsibility of the traveler.
The pilot in command has the last word.
However, the most important point is that the pilot in command has the last word on all issues.