Aerial Tours: Providing the Thrills of a Lifetime!

Have you ever thought of enjoying breathtaking views from inside an aircraft while you soar over fascinating and breathtaking scenery around the world? Or wondered who provides such ‘Memories of a Lifetime’ services? Patrick Ryan offers a special ‘scenic air tour’ of this unique Aerial Work aviation sector...

Patrick Ryan  |  20th April 2022
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Patrick Ryan
Patrick Ryan

Patrick Ryan brings over 30 years of experience as a Senior Consultant helping government and business...

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Can you picture it? The buzz from a single-engine Aviat Husky airplane echos in your ears as you soar above the Alaskan landscape. All around you, snow-covered mountains stare at you from every direction, punctuated only by twisting, flowing, cold rocky riverbeds below: a magnificent but remote landscape...

Then the plane banks, and over the buzz of the engine the pilot directs you to look at what appears to be just another set of curving, rocky riverbeds. But then, as you scan, the rocks start to come to life, to form definitive shapes — with large brown shoulder humps, massive front claws, and piercing eyes looking up at you – it’s a family of grizzly bears spending the morning catching salmon. 

If you ever spent time flying around a 3D interactive Earth map at warp speed, you already know the appeal of viewing places from the sky. However, when seen from a real-world viewpoint like an aircraft, even familiar places become new, with different shades, forms, and geographical features you’d never known existed.

So it makes sense that Aerial Tours have become more popular and more specialised over the years. Likewise, many Aerial Work service providers have broadened their offerings considerably as customer enthusiasm has grown even with pandemic restrictions. 

What is this Special Aerial Work Sector? 

Aerial Tours — also known as ‘Air Tours’ or ‘Flightseeing’ — refers to sightseeing trips carried out in an aircraft. An Air Tour means any flight conducted for compensation or hire in an airplane where the purpose of the flight is sightseeing over a pre-planned location, often to experience something unique. 

What is not Aerial Tours? Aerial Tours is not Air Transportation or Recreational General Aviation. Instead, conducting Aerial Tours is a specialised job in its own right. Aerial Tours focuses on touring vs. delivering someone or something from point A to point B. Or taking your mother up in the air so she can see her neighborhood from a new and exciting perspective. 

There are specific laws and policies specifically regulating commercial Air Tours in many countries. For example, the FAA (under Part 136 – Commercial Air Tours and National Parks Air Tour Management) 

requires the following safety standards for operators conducting commercial Air Tours: 

  • Letters of Authorisation 
  • Passenger briefings 
  • Life preservers for over-water flights 
  • Helicopter floats for over-water flights 
  • Helicopter performance plan and operations 
  • And many more rules regarding Air Tours over native lands and nature preserves… 


Types of Air Tours 

Today, the types of Aerial Tours run the full range of many fun and creative possibilities, taking in all kinds of scenery from various airborne vehicles, perspectives, and experiences. These can range from flightseeing enthusiasts choosing to take a short 30-minute flight around a local airfield, to spending a week exploring the remote regions of a desert or mountain range. 

Here are some of the different types of Air Tours available for you to enjoy on your next vacation: 

Landscapes & Historical Sites – Fly over panoramas like the Grand Canyon, the Great Barrier Reef, Stonehenge, or the Peruvian Nazca Lines. 

Cityscapes – Cruise or hover above hectic cityscapes both day or night and capture with your eyes the life of a major city like London, New York, or Dubai. If you’re in the romantic mode, fly & propose over your special city while taking in the exciting views and drinking champaign! 

Wildlife – Soar over unique wildlife without disturbing their habitat, like whale watching off the coast of northern California or zebra herds in Tanzania. 

Adventure Tours – Spend days accompanied by an experienced tour leader and pilot and gain access to remote places of unimaginable beauty away from the well-trodden tourist path, like the outback of Australia or the best fishing spots in northern Canada and Alaska. 

Vintage Flights – Maybe not in the same category of watching the ground below, Vintage Flight tour services provide people the chance to experience flying a vintage aircraft like the PT-17 Stearman and many more. Ask your tour pilot for the aerobatic package if you have the stomach! 

Unique & Interesting Air Tours 

To give you a better perspective of the different types of adventures the Aerial Work aviation ‘Air Tour’ sector provides, here are just a few particular unique and exciting journeys you can take today: 

Zeppelin Rides Over Lake Constance, Munich & Rhineland, Germany — On a Zeppelin tour, you don’t exactly take off; instead, you gently float away from the ground (with the aid of engine power). The flight gives you the same quiet airborne hang-time sensation of a balloon ride but, unlike a hot-air balloon, a Zeppelin can manoeuvre in any direction while cruising at 45 knots. 

Nazca Lines Flights, Peru – Fly over the ancient and mysterious Nazca Lines in Peru. These flights consist of making numerous passes above unbelievable or unexplainable images of geometric shapes, strange human figures, whales, and monkeys. 

Antarctica Flights – On an Antarctica flight tour, you’ll fly on a special 11-hour round-trip from Australia aboard a chartered Qantas airliner. You’ll spend four hours over the frozen continent on one of 19 preplanned scenic routes. During the ‘dead time’ flying to and from Australia, Antarctica specialists host discussions on natural history and ecological topics. 

Iditarod Dog Sled Race Flights, Alaska, USA – Besides Antarctica flight tours — and if you can’t get enough of freezing temperatures — fly along during the Iditarod Dog Sled Race in a Cessna or DeHavilland Beaver equipped with snow skis. These tours consist of flying over the race and dropping in at checkpoints to see the dogsled teams up close. Additionally, you’ll fly around Mount McKinley, mountain passes, and small settlements and outposts during your tour. 

Open-Door Helicopter Flights over Oahu– Hawaii, USA — Fly aboard an open-door helicopter over Oahu for unhindered views of the island. Tour pilots will narrate while you fly over sights like Pearl Harbor, the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial, Honolulu Harbor, Hanauma Bay, and the Halona Blowhole. 

Things to Think About Before You Fly! 

When it comes to planning your next air adventure, there are some things to consider. Here’s a shortlist of primary or critical things to think about to avoid wasting your time and treasure: 

Weather — Seasonal Conditions (e.g., winter snowfall and rainy season, etc.) – Regional Meteorological Trends (e.g., dust and haze that tends to hang in the air during the midday heat over deserts, afternoon mountain thunderstorms in the summer, or monsoon seasons, etc.). 

Flora & Fauna — Natural Rhythm (e.g., flightseeing trips that involve plants and animals viewing can be harder to predict, i.e., they often involve flying over the right place at the right time to capture the right thing you want to see in your particular creature’s life-cycle, e.g., the mating season in certain parts of the oceans, etc.).  

Scheduling — Seasonal (e.g., again, based on weather and nature, some Air Tour providers are seasonal and not year-round) – Peak Tourist Season (e.g., expect long lines, higher prices, limited reservation opportunities, etc.) 

Safety & Reliability — Think before you fly (e.g., the safety record of the Air Tour service provider, how long they’ve been providing aerial tour services, pilot ratings, type of services provided, and reserving a seat in advance, etc.) 

The Providers & Aircraft that Thrill You! 

As mentioned before, the Aerial Tour sector of Aerial Work aviation flies an array of fixed-wing, rotary-wing, and lighter-than-air (LTA) aircraft to provide safe and unique experiences. 

However, the types of aircraft used by Air Tour service providers generally provide comfort, excellent visibility, and the unique safety kit to meet the specific requirements of a tour. Here’s a breakdown of how each type or category of aircraft plays its part in the Air Tour business: 

Helicopters 

Along with fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters are notably popular attractions in the Air Tour sector. Helicopters provide the ‘low & slow’ capabilities that a fixed-wing aircraft cannot provide. Plus, it’s probably the first time for someone to have the chance to fly in a helicopter. Additionally, helicopters can provide the unique means to take tourists to unique locations like the bottom of the Grand Canyon for a lovely afternoon picnic. 

When it comes to the types of helicopters primarily used, most tour providers operate light-lift aircraft followed by medium-lift platforms with plenty of space and visibility for passengers. Here’s a shortlist of several Aerial Tour operators and the type of helicopters that will thrill you: 

  • Celebrity Helicopters, Los Angeles, USA — Airbus H125, Bell 206 Jet Ranger, Bell 412 
  • Helicopter Tour Dubai, Dubai, UAE — Airbus H130, Augusta H109 
  • Volcano Heli, Iceland — Robinson R-44 

Gyrocopter (Gyroplane, Autogyro) 

Not used at the same level as fixed-wing and helicopters, gyrocopter flight tours can be found easily in all corners of the world. Gyrocopters provide a low-cost option for both tour providers and tourists. Even though gyrocopters don’t fly like helicopters, they are just as exciting and safe. They also provide the thrill of flying ‘low & slow’ from an open cockpit or under a glass bubble canopy, which is still a great adventure. If you’re interested in such a flight, look at firms such as: 

  • IntoTheBlue, Manchester Gyrocopter Tours, UK — Open cockpit M.T.O. Sport or closed cockpit Magni M24 
  • Adventure Flights, Costa Rica — E.L.A. Eclipse E.V.O. 

Single Engine & Twin Engine Fixed-Wing Aircraft 

Before helicopters came into their own, the use of fixed-wing aircraft dominated aerial sightseeing tours since the 1920s. To this day, fixed-wing aircraft allow for longer flight times and incur lower running operating costs regarding ROI (Return-on-Investment) when it comes to specific tours. Additionally, fixed-wing aircraft are best suited for long-distance remote adventures, high and quiet wildlife tours, and large groups touring or transporting. 

Based on this, you’ll see Aerial Tour providers focus on vast scenic locations or high-demand sightseeing locations with fixed-wing aircraft such as: 

Airventures Alaska, USA — Cessna 185 Skywagon (Floats, Bush Wheels, & Skis) 

Antarctica Flights (Captain’s Choice Pty. Ltd), Australia — Boeing 787 Dreamliner 

Aerial Collective, Duxford, U.K. — Spitfire T.IX, Me-109, P-51D, Lysander, Blenheim MK1 

Gliders 

Even though the glider or sailplane doesn’t have the flying capabilities of other powered aircraft (passenger capacity, etc.) gliders are still a popular tour with many tourists who want to ‘soar like a bird’ without all the noise. Like the powered aircraft Air Tour sector, many glider operators provide scenic and even aerobatic rides over cities, historical sites, and even geological locations like volcanoes. 

Unlike the powered aircraft tour sector, travel agencies organise these excursions while freelance commercial glider pilots or soaring clubs provide the flight. Here’s a sample of some of the types of providers who’ll get you flying as soon as possible with a quick auto-tow or bungee-launch: 

  • Virgin Experience Gifts — The type of tour and glider is almost endless. It depends on what you want. Just don’t forget about the ‘Things to Think About Before You Fly!’ section of this article. 
  • Aero Club Adele Orsi Calcinate, Italy — Schempp Hirth Duo Discus, D-9828 
  • Honolulu Soaring, Hawaii, USA — ASK-21, S.G.S. 2-32

Lighter-than-Air (LTA) 

Even before the Wright Brothers took their first flight, LTAs were already providing scenic tours by air. Today, balloon rides are still very popular and available worldwide and probably available in your area. But, like gliders, LTAs provide a simpler, quieter, and natural sense of floating effortlessly… plus, eating and drinking ‘Hors d’Oeuvres’ without turbulence. 

So, if you like it slower, lower, and a bit more romantic, here are some unique balloon tour providers around the world for a taste: 

  • Hot Air Balloon Expeditions — Classic Style Passenger Riding Hot Air Balloons (Heavy-lift burners and enlarged baskets for up to 28-32 passengers) 
  • Deutsche Zeppelin-Reederei GmbH — ZLT Zeppelin Luftschifftechnik GmbH & Co. KG, Zeppelin NT 

Unmanned Aircraft 

Last but not least, the unmanned aircraft or ‘Drone’ aviation community, like other Aerial Work aviation sectors, are quickly entering the Aerial Tour sector with innovative ways to bring the same thrilling experience of seeing the world from the sky. 

One example of this innovation is an Air Tour provider or ‘Aerial Immersion Sightseeing Tour Operator’ in Montreal, Canada providing real-time virtual scenic flights. They use drones flown by professional pilots on-the-spot around the city to show spectacular sights while narrating the history of specific iconic areas. 

They do this by providing a steady stream of live imagery to the tourist through high-resolution First-Person View (FPV) goggles. All the while, passengers are offered a 360-degree immersion experience while their feet are firmly planted on the ground, i.e., an excellent opportunity for elderly or less able-bodied tourists. 

“Ladies and Gentlemen, Thank You For Flying With ‘Air Tour’!” 

It’s that time, as with any fun vacation or exciting adventure, all good things must come to an end, and sadly we must all go back to the ‘real world’. 

As you can see, Aerial Tours is not one type of aircraft or one type of experience. Instead, this Aerial Work aviation sector consists of many different non-transport flying excursions ranging from charity sightseeing to fishing adventures, onboard many unique platforms. All of which comes together to provide people with a ‘thrill of a lifetime’ or, in some cases , a ‘once-in-a-lifetime experience’. 

So, when your magic carpet comes to its final parking place on any Aerial Tour event, and you walk away astonished, happy, and emotionally affected by what you observed or experienced – that’s ‘Mission Accomplished’ by the Aerial Work — Aerial Tour sector. 

The next time you take your family on vacation, think about booking an aerial tour to maximise and expand your perspective of the world. Without the world of Aerial Tour providers, life would be far less interesting!

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