Business jets vs. Helicopters: Which is safer?


Above: An Embraer Phenom 300 prepares for take-off. Below: A Bell 407GX in action.

Chris Mann, owner of The London Helicopter, pits business jets against helicopters to see which comes out on top in the safety stakes.
Above: An Embraer Phenom 300 prepares for take-off. Below: A Bell 407GX in action.

Above: An Embraer Phenom 300 prepares for take-off. Below: A Bell 407GX in action.

“Safety first” is a common phrase and a good maxim to live by. Our modern lives have been built with safety seen all around us, making sure that we’re as protected as we can be.

MUST-READ: Fatal Business Jet Accidents Database

Many people are put off by air travel and are terrified of the dangers of journeying by sky. The reality is though, that flying really is the safest way to travel according to statistics. Not only is it the most reliable way to travel, it holds the rank by a long margin.

ALSO READ: UK offshore helicopter accidents

Broadly speaking, there are two ways for business aircraft passengers to take to the airways: by private jet or by helicopter. So which is the safest of the safest?

Round one: Cleared for take-off

The difficulty of the battle is that each contender is in a different weight class, and they’re great at different things. So let’s try our best to make this a fair fight and look at the best of both beasts.

First, we’re going to look at take-off and landing. Jets need a long runway for going up or down, whereas helicopters are a much more versatile contestant, with the ability to take off and land virtually anywhere that has a space suitable.

Jets are bigger animals though and they are statistically more sturdy and reliable during their take-offs and landings.

Helicopters, being of a smaller nature, are a little more easily affected by weather conditions and wind.

When conditions aren’t suitable for take-off or landing however, neither jet nor helicopter pilots will take a risk and will do everything to ensure the safety of their passengers. Our first round is a close one and we’ll have to call it a tie.

Round two: In case of emergency

Statistics show that business jets are involved in fewer accidents than helicopters, but the risks are far greater if the worst should happen due to the height, speed and number of passengers.

Helicopters can make more frequent journeys and always travel shorter distances than jets. Helicopter rides for public transport rarely cross over seas or oceans and, as we’ve already said, they can land in much more versatile ground locations.

Private jets take longer to change course while in the air and plotting a new one with the help of ground control can be onerous.

Thankfully, both methods leave motorised road transport in the dust when it comes to accidents and injuries, an impressive record that is down to the skill and training of their pilots and operators and frequent, thorough safety checks.

Another impressive bout, but round two sees helicopters better their airborne opponents because of their emergency landing ability and risks to fewer people.

Round three: Equipped for safety

Both business jets and helicopters are extremely well-equipped with safety gear and brief all their passengers thoroughly. However, since the safety requirements and operation environments are very different, this is perhaps the hardest aspect to compare. It isn’t a matter of which is better equipped, it’s a matter of which is more able to handle its unique safety issues.

If you are flying with a private jet operator that has a good safety system management in place, you will receive a safety briefing and set of instructions at the beginning of each and every flight. Exits and procedures are also made clear.

Helicopter passengers will also receive a safety briefing and they have great equipment on board, with the best plans in place should an incident occur.

Both contestants are the best in their field. While sitting on the fence is ironically a safe option, it’s also the only fair way to end our final round. It must surely be another draw.

And the winner is…

Just like the famous Rocky 2 ending, our third round saw jets and helicopters evenly matched, but it is the helicopter that gets up before the final count. With the same result in the first round, it’s the second that gives helicopters the edge over their aerial rivals.

A close match from start to finish, both methods of travel bring great benefits to the table in their different ways. With safety being paramount for both business jets and helicopters, the versatility and manoeuvrability of the helicopter just gives it the edge in this clash of the titans.

Whether you’re flying by jet to distant shores, or enjoying the stunning sights on a helicopter tour, you can definitely rest assured, knowing that you’re in the safest hands there are.


The London Helicopter provides helicopter sightseeing tours from The London Heliport in Battersea and Redhill Aerodrome.

Subscribe to our free newsletter

For more opinions from Helicopter Investor, subscribe to our email newsletter.

Subscribe here