Start a helicopter tour business by following these 9 steps:
You have found the perfect business idea, and now you are ready to take the next step. There is more to starting a business than just registering it with the state. We have put together this simple guide to starting your helicopter tour business. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.
Check out our How to Start a Business page.
STEP 1: Plan your business
A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. It will help you map out the specifics of your business and discover some unknowns. A few important topics to consider are:
- What are the startup and ongoing costs?
- Who is your target market?
- How much can you charge customers?
- What will you name your business?
Luckily we have done a lot of this research for you.
What are the costs involved in opening a helicopter tour business?
Unlike some small businesses, the costs of opening a helicopter tour business are significant. Depending on the size, make, and model, the helicopter alone will cost between $150,000 and $300,000. If you need a private pilot's license, it will cost between $10,000 and $15,000, and if you need to obtain your commercial pilot's license, this will take between $18,000 and $20,000. You must also lease a hangar for your helicopter, and the monthly cost of this will vary, though it is typically between $1,500 and $3,000 a month. You must also advertise your business, which is worth spending $3,000 on to start out. In addition, you'll need enough helicopter fuel to get started, which is about $1,000. Finally, you'll require insurance, and while the costs may vary, it is typically between $11,000 and $15,000 a year.
What are the ongoing expenses for a helicopter tour business?
Your primary ongoing expenses will be the hangar for your helicopter (leases are typically between $1,500 to $3,000 a month), gasoline (typically less than $1,000 a month), and advertising (your exact balance of cheap social media advertising and more expensive traditional advertising is up to you, but this is typically less than $500 a month).
Who is the target market?
While many people enjoy a good helicopter ride, your target demographic is men between the ages of 35 and 45. They are likely to have enough disposable income for a relatively extravagant experience while still being young enough to seek out thrilling experiences.
How does a helicopter tour business make money?
A helicopter tour business typically charges a fixed price for short helicopter flights around a city.
How much can you charge customers?
How much you charge is up to you, though the amount is typically determined by the distance you transport customers. Typical flights cost between $20 to $355 and range from a simple eight-mile tour to a thirty-mile tour that features special city landmarks and other unique attractions.
How much profit can a helicopter tour business make?
The amount of profit you can make is determined by how many customers you serve per year and which tour packages they buy from you. If you provide tours to eight people a day for five days a week at an average cost of $40 per person, you will make over $83,000 per year before expenses. It is possible to make more by serving more customers, selling pricier packages, or both.
How can you make your business more profitable?
Consider charging more for extra features. For instance, people may pay more to be flown over a scenic waterfall or an iconic amusement park. And you should offer seasonal specials for everything from Valentine's Day to Halloween. Finally, don't be afraid to raise your rates after you've established your business, especially if you have little to no competition in your area.
What will you name your business?
Choosing the right name is important and challenging. If you don’t already have a name in mind, visit our How to Name a Business guide or get help brainstorming a name with our Helicopter Tour Business Name Generator
When registering a business name, we recommend researching your business name by checking:
- Your state's business records
- Federal and state trademark records
- Social media platforms
- Web domain availability.
It's very important to secure your domain name before someone else does.
STEP 2: Form a legal entity
Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC or corporation protects you from being held personally liable if your helicopter tour business is sued.
Form Your LLC
Read our Guide to Form Your Own LLC
Recommended: You will need to elect a registered agent for your LLC. LLC formation packages usually include a free year of registered agent services. You can choose to hire a registered agent or act as your own.
STEP 3: Register for taxes
You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
In order to register for taxes you will need to apply for an EIN. It's really easy and free!
You can acquire your EIN for free through the IRS website, via fax, or by mail. If you would like to learn more about EINs and how they can benefit your LLC, read our article, What is an EIN?.
Small Business Taxes
Depending on which business structure you choose, you might have different options for how your business will be taxed. For example, some LLCs could benefit from being taxed as an S corporation (S corp).
You can learn more about small business taxes in these guides:
There are specific state taxes that might apply to your business. Learn more about state sales tax and franchise taxes in our state sales tax guides.
STEP 4: Open a business bank account & credit card
Using dedicated business banking and credit accounts is essential for personal asset protection.
When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your business is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.
Additionally, learning how to build business credit can help you get credit cards and other financing in your business's name (instead of yours), better interest rates, higher lines of credit, and more.
Open a business bank account
- This separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
- It also makes accounting and tax filing easier.
Recommended: Read our Best Banks for Small Business review to find the best national bank, credit union, business-loan friendly banks, one with many brick-and-mortar locations, and more.
Get a business credit card
- This helps you separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
- It also builds your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money and investment later on.
STEP 5: Set up business accounting
Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
STEP 6: Obtain necessary permits and licenses
Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
Federal Business Licensing Requirements
There are a number of federal regulations and licensure requirements that your business must abide by. The following links give overviews and additional information on such requirements.
- Airmen Certification
- Becoming A Pilot
- 14 CFR Part 135 Air Carrier and Operator Certification
- Airworthiness Certificate
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a helicopter tour business. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.
Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, read our article, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.
For information about local licenses and permits:
- Check with your town, city or county clerk’s office
- Get assistance from one of the local associations listed in US Small Business Associations directory of local business resources.
Certificate of Occupancy
Businesses operating out of a physical location typically require a Certificate of Occupancy (CO). A CO confirms that all building codes, zoning laws and government regulations have been met.
- If you plan to lease a location:
- It is generally the landlord’s responsibility to obtain a CO.
- Before leasing, confirm that your landlord has or can obtain a valid CO that is applicable to a helicopter tour business.
- After a major renovation, a new CO often needs to be issued. If your place of business will be renovated before opening, it is recommended to include language in your lease agreement stating that lease payments will not commence until a valid CO is issued.
- If you plan to purchase or build a location:
- You will be responsible for obtaining a valid CO from a local government authority.
- Review all building codes and zoning requirements for your business’ location to ensure your helicopter tour business will be in compliance and able to obtain a CO.
To avoid liability and potential lawsuits, helicopter tour businesses should have their clients sign waivers.
An example of an appropriate waiver can be found here.
STEP 7: Get business insurance
Just as with licenses and permits, your business needs insurance in order to operate safely and lawfully. Business Insurance protects your company’s financial wellbeing in the event of a covered loss.
There are several types of insurance policies created for different types of businesses with different risks. If you’re unsure of the types of risks that your business may face, begin with General Liability Insurance. This is the most common coverage that small businesses need, so it’s a great place to start for your business.
Learn more about General Liability Insurance.
Another notable insurance policy that many businesses need is Workers’ Compensation Insurance. If your business will have employees, it’s a good chance that your state will require you to carry Workers' Compensation Coverage.
STEP 8: Define your brand
Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
If you aren't feeling confident about designing your small business logo, then check out our Design Guides for Beginners, we'll give you helpful tips and advice for creating the best unique logo for your business.
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How to promote & market a helicopter tour business
Within your budget, it is worth advertising via “traditional” means such as radio, newspaper, and television. Social media is also an ideal venue for you to advertise for little cost in a way that highlights the visual appeal of your tours. If you have the budget and wish to make the investment, you may consider getting a video camera that can shoot 360 degree videos. This allows you to share special videos that provide a taste of how special these experiences are, and potential customers can get this preview using their smartphones.
How to keep customers coming back
In addition to the advertising methods mentioned above, you should offer special rates for groups, which incentivizes customers to bring their friends and family. Consider featuring customers in your advertisements and social media to help them feel special so they want to return. Finally, focus on anything that can contribute to this unique experience, such as playing thrilling music for customers while you fly.
STEP 9: Create your business website
After defining your brand and creating your logo the next step is to create a website for your business.
While creating a website is an essential step, some may fear that it’s out of their reach because they don’t have any website-building experience. While this may have been a reasonable fear back in 2015, web technology has seen huge advancements in the past few years that makes the lives of small business owners much simpler.
Here are the main reasons why you shouldn’t delay building your website:
- All legitimate businesses have websites - full stop. The size or industry of your business does not matter when it comes to getting your business online.
- Social media accounts like Facebook pages or LinkedIn business profiles are not a replacement for a business website that you own.
- Website builder tools like the GoDaddy Website Builder have made creating a basic website extremely simple. You don’t need to hire a web developer or designer to create a website that you can be proud of.
Using our website building guides, the process will be simple and painless and shouldn’t take you any longer than 2-3 hours to complete.
Start A Helicopter Tour Business In Your State
Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.
Is this Business Right For You?
This business is ideal for those already licensed to fly a helicopter, as there is a significant investment of time and money required to acquire a license. As such, it typically makes a good business for retired military personnel. Aside from a knowledge of helicopters, one of the best qualities for this business is to be a “people person,” as you must be able to charm customers before, during, and after flight.
Want to know if you are cut out to be an entrepreneur?
Take our Entrepreneurship Quiz to find out!
What happens during a typical day at a helicopter tour business?
For a helicopter tour business, your days are straightforward. Most of them will ideally be spent flying customers around predetermined routes within your city. Otherwise, your time is chiefly taken up with helicopter maintenance, advertising, accounting, and general customer service.
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful helicopter tour business?
As mentioned before, being licensed to fly a helicopter is a must for this business. Therefore, it's best to obtain this license before seeking to open the business. Any prior experience professionally flying helicopters is a great way to get your business started. Additionally, previous experience in the tourism and hospitality industry can help you market yourself to key demographics.
What is the growth potential for a helicopter tour business?
The growth potential of this business is modest, as the Technavio forecast of the global helicopter tourism market predicts the industry to grow by 3.45% between 2017 and 2021.
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Take the Next Step
Find a business mentor
One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.
Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.
Resources to Help Women in Business
There are many resources out there specifically for women entrepreneurs. We’ve gathered necessary and useful information to help you succeed both professionally and personally:
If you’re a woman looking for some guidance in entrepreneurship, check out this great new series Women in Business created by the women of our partner Startup Savant.
What are some insider tips for jump starting a helicopter tour business?
One tip is to fly as much and as often as you can on your own before doing it commercially. Carefully consult aerial maps of your city and determine the best paths to take customers on. Depending on your city, you should try to advertise via local hotels to gather the interest of tourists who may be visiting.
How and when to build a team
While it's not impossible to start this business completely on your own, you will likely want a small team to help serve customers and contribute to the maintenance of your helicopter.