ICE Helicopters   ·   Oct 2   ·   read

Helicopter Over London: Tips on Flying the London Heli-Lanes

helicopter exterior flying over london city
As a PPL holder, high up on the long list of things you can do in a helicopter that you can’t in a (single-engined) plane is flying over central London. We’re talking, of course, about the legendary London heli-lanes: a rite of passage for any helicopter pilot, but – as we’ll see in today’s post – definitely one not to be taken lightly.
The heli routes are designated for single-engined helicopters, and they’re probably one of the most exciting things you can do in a helicopter in the UK. Who wouldn’t want to fly right through the middle of London’s famous skyline, following the bends in the river as you look down on some of the country’s most celebrated landmarks?
This is a trip you’ll want to do several times with an instructor before attempting it on your own. The procedures are strict, and for good reason. You’ll be flying inside the London CTR, the busiest piece of airspace in the UK – enough said! Your RT (RadioTelephony) needs to be spot on and your flying accurate to do this trip successfully, but that’s all part of the challenge.
The idea of the heli lanes is that they go over the less built-up areas of the city, so by sticking to them, you should be able to land somewhere in the event of a malfunction. The Thames is, of course, the expected place to ditch once you get into the heart of London. Here’s the official chart courtesy of the NATS AIS.
As you can see from this chart, each heli route has its own ‘H’ number, the most scenic being H4, which takes you straight up the middle of the River Thames past all the iconic landmarks. Along the way are compulsory reporting points, marked by the dark blue triangles.
map of helicopter routes in the london control zone
You’ll mainly be talking to Heathrow Radar (125.625 MHz) for this trip, so you can always phone up London Terminal Control on 023 8040 1110 before you set off and let them know you’re coming. It’s not a requirement, but on particularly busy days it can be a good idea so that you’re not refused entry once airborne. Give them your route, which will comprise a sequence of the H numbers – say, H9, H10, H4 – along with the usual PPR information.
Here are some things to keep in mind when you do this flight:
  • You’ll definitely want to take SkyDemon (or any moving map) with you to make sure you stay bang on track, but before you take off it’s also worth brushing up on the VRPs and compulsory reporting points along the way, so that you know what to look out for and roughly where the lanes are in relation to points on the ground.
  • It’s critical to keep a sharp eye on your altitude, as each lane has a maximum altitude. Accurate flying is essential, as you mustn’t exceed the maximum altitude – but at the same time, you’ll want to be as high as you’re able just in case something does go wrong.
  • You might well meet traffic coming the other way, in which case you move across to the right of the river when you’re along H4. Aim for the area between the low and high tide marks and keep a good look out for other traffic at all times. Always listen out on the radio for the whereabouts of other helicopters.
  • You probably won’t be used to flying near tall buildings like those of the London skyline, but the 500ft rule still applies!
  • Bringing lifejackets is optional, but in the winter we would definitely recommend them. We hope, of course, that they never need to be used!
  • Grab a copy of Helipaddy’s Heli Lane Guide for loads of extra great tips.
Book in with us and we’ll show you how the heli lanes work – all you need to decide is whether to go in our well-equipped Cabri G2, R44, R66 or MD520N. Call us on 0207 112 8835 to find out more!