There’s no doubt that parachutes save lives, so you might be wondering if airplanes are equipped with parachutes or not.

Interestingly, most planes do not have parachutes, including commercial planes that we all take for our business and vacation trips.

But there are some very good reasons why commercial planes don’t have parachutes.

Some Airplanes Have Parachutes

Small, Private Planes

Some small, private planes are equipped with parachutes – but probably not the ones you are thinking of.

The problem with using a personal parachute in a small plane is that it is hard to exit the plane safely and in time, especially as pilots will spend some of the time trying to regain control of the aircraft before it crashes.

Some planes do have whole-plane parachutes, though, that are exactly what you might be thinking they are.

An example is the Whole Aircraft Rescue Parachute Systems (WARPS), developed by BRS Aerospace, which are attached to the entire plane to slow down its descent in the event of a crash.

Parachute kits plus installation can cost approximately $15,000 – $20,000.

The only company to include a whole airframe parachute as standard equipment on all certified aircraft models is Cirrus.

A whole-plane parachute works as follows:

  • The rocket fires
  • The chute is extracted
  • The speed-sensing slider controls how fast the chute opens
  • The parachute inflates
  • The aircraft is gradually lowered to the ground

The parachute is stored in the fuselage, either behind the back seat or in the center section of the wing, above the cockpit.

Once the parachute is deployed, the descent rate is about 1,700ft per minute (518 m).

BRS, who are the premier whole-plane parachute manufacturers, estimate that over 450 aircraft have been saved due to their parachute system.

Commercial Planes

Commercial planes like the Boeing-737 and 747 that we have all travelled on do not have parachutes on board for either passengers or pilots.

We get into the reasons below as to why commercial planes don’t have parachutes, but in short, it’s because they wouldn’t be able to help in the event of a crash to save lives.

When it comes to whole-plane parachutes, a commercial plane can weigh almost 400 times a small, private plane, so designing a parachute system big enough to carry the weight of a commercial airliner is very difficult.

The sheer size of a commercial airliner would also make it challenging, too.

It’s estimated that a Boeing 747 would have to be equipped with 21 parachutes, each the size of a football field.

Military Planes

Military planes, including fighter jets and planes used in all branches of the military, are equipped with parachutes.

The pilot, co-pilot, or weapons systems officer wear a large parachute and harness that buckles into the seat of their aircraft.

When one or both of the two levers positioned on the sides of the seat are pulled, the entire seat with the pilot in it is ejected out of the plane.

5 Reasons Commercial Planes Don’t Have Parachutes

No Time to Deploy the Parachute

On commercial airliners, which can carry upwards of 300 people, there simply isn’t enough time for passengers to strap into a parachute and leap from the plane.

A reasonable distance between jumpers must also be left, which takes several seconds and further reduces the amount of time there is to jump out of the plane.

Planes Crash At Low Altitudes

Most plane crashes occur on takeoff or landing, with only 10% of accidents occurring midair.

This means that in the vast majority of cases, a parachute would not be useful.

Lack of Oxygen

Commercial planes cruise at altitudes of 35,000 feet.

At this altitude, most importantly, an oxygen tank, mask and regulator would be required. A flight suit, ballistic helmet, and altimeter would also be necessary.

So even if passengers jumped out of the plane, there would be a lack of oxygen, which would cause them to pass out from hypoxia.

For comparison, skydivers jump at no altitudes no higher than 15,000 feet.

Related: Are Airplanes Cold?

Passengers Have No Prior Training or Instruction

Very few passengers onboard any commercial plane are likely to have skydived before.

This means that the vast majority of passengers would lack any kind of training and instruction required to use a parachute safely.

Commercial Planes Travel at High Speeds

Commercial airliners cruise at around 450 – 600 mph, which is much faster than skydiving planes that fly at 80 – 110 mph when it’s time for the jump.

This means that it’s likely passengers would smash into the side of the aircraft when jumping, which could cause severe injury or death.

Helicopters Have Parachute Rescue Systems

Helicopter pilots do not wear parachutes, but there are a few helicopters that have parachute rescue systems.

It would be very hard for anyone onboard a helicopter to safely eject out of their seat without hitting the main rotor blades.

Helicopters also fly at low altitudes, which makes it hard to safely jump out of the helicopter in time.

Additionally, in a sense, the main rotor acts as a parachute, as it can allow a pilot to glide the helicopter back to the ground, which isn’t possible with planes.

Helen Krasner holds a PPL(A), with 15 years experience flying fixed-wing aircraft; a PPL(H), with 13 years experience flying helicopters; and a CPL(H), Helicopter Instructor Rating, with 12 years working as a helicopter instructor.

Helen is an accomplished aviation writer with 12 years of experience, having authored several books and published numerous articles while also serving as the Editor of the BWPA (British Women Pilots Association) newsletter, with her excellent work having been recognized with her nomination of the “Aviation Journalist of the Year” award.

Helen has won the “Dawn to Dusk” International Flying Competition, along with the best all-female competitors, three times with her copilot.