Types of Aerial Lifts: How to Choose the Best Lift for the Job

Scissor lifts, boom lifts and vertical mast lifts all offer different advantages.

Aerial lifts, properly called mobile elevating work platforms (MEWPs) per the new ANSI A92 standards, move workers to hard-to-reach places, usually at height, without a scaffold. They are essential to countless tasks. But given the different types of lifts, how do you choose the best lift for the job at hand?

First, answer these questions:

  • What load capacity do you need? The weight of workers, tools and materials adds up, so factor in the dynamic load capacity (based on the capability to lift evenly balanced loads) and the static capacity (side/end load) when choosing a lift.
  • How high or far do you need to reach? You may need to choose between maximum height and maximum horizontal reach when considering types of construction lifts.
  • How small is the area you’re working in? Consider the footprint of the machine at its base and also the size of the platform in relation to where the lift will be used.
  • Are you working indoors or outdoors? Indoor work requires a low-emission power source and tires that are easy on floors. Outdoor work often requires a more rugged, powerful machine.

Then brush up on the different types of aerial lifts and their key features and capabilities.

Scissor lifts

Scissor lifts feature a large, wide platform that is supported by cross braces and moves straight up and down (not out). The platform raises workers and equipment directly over the base of the machine, making the lift very stable. Scissor lifts generally have higher load capacities than other types of lifts.

If you need a roomy, highly stable platform that can hold more workers and heavy loads, and you don’t need horizontal reach, this is your lift. Types of scissor lifts include slab, rough-terrain and single-man scissor lifts.

Common uses for scissor lifts

Scissor lifts are ideal for window washing, building repairs, warehouse operations and industrial maintenance, among other applications. Electric scissor lifts are often used indoors on smooth slab surfaces. Rough terrain scissor lifts are suitable for outdoor work and can traverse slopes, uneven terrain and mud.

How scissor lifts compare to other types of lifts

  • Load capacity: 500 pounds to 2,500 pounds. For the heaviest loads, use a lift with strengthened scissor braces to prevent swaying.
  • Height and reach: 19 feet to 40 feet
  • Space requirements: Standard scissor lifts typically can't drive into small spaces, but smaller, electric-powered scissor lifts often fit where other scissor lifts don’t.
  • Indoor or outdoor use? Electric scissor lifts are a good choice for indoor use because they emit no fumes and the weight distribution decreases the chances of harming floor surfaces. Rough-terrain scissor lifts, featuring heavy duty tires and internal combustion engines, are best for outdoor jobs.

Boom lifts

Boom lifts offer a major height advantage compared to scissor lifts. Telescopic boom lifts reach high and far and can get workers next to and on top of tall structures. Articulating boom lifts have less horizontal reach but allow an operator to lift workers up and over, or over and under, obstacles. Adding a jib boom extension lets the operator move the platform up and down and side to side.

Common uses for boom lifts

Telescopic boom lifts are used for tasks such as painting, glazing, bridge inspections, transmission line repairs and industrial maintenance.Articulating boom lifts are perfect for reaching high utility towers and for repair work on bridges, stadiums, hangars and convention centers.

How boom lifts compare to other types of lifts

  • Load capacity: 500 pounds to 1,000 pounds
  • Height and reach: Options range from a 40-foot articulating boom lift to a 185-foot telescopic boom lift.
  • Space requirements: High-reach boom liftsgenerally aren’t well suited for confined areas. A telescopic boom lift needs more room than an articulating boom lift because its turntable is larger and it requires outriggers to maintain balance. An articulating boom lift can operate in smaller work zones because the far end of the turntable does not extend beyond the drive chassis edge. Some smaller articulating boom lifts have narrow designs that fit smaller spaces.
  • Indoor or outdoor use? Electric boom lifts offer a clean-emission option for reaching tall areas within a facility. Gasoline-, propane- and diesel-powered boom lifts are better choices for outdoor work because of their drive train power, faster speeds and fast refueling.

Vertical mast lifts

Vertical mast lifts are designed to fit in narrow spaces, such as doorways and freight elevators and in between tight racking. A safer and more efficient alternative to ladders, they feature a telescoping, rotating mast and are easily operated and driven from the platform. The mast-guide system provides stability while minimizing deflection and sway, but the lifts are built for portability and convenience, not heavy loads.

Common uses for vertical mast lifts

These lifts, which come in push-around and electric, self-propelled models, get workers right up close to the work and are excellent for relatively low-height, indoor maintenance jobs in tight work areas. They are often used for painting and lighting work, warehouse stock picking and work in churches and offices.

How vertical mast lifts compare to other types of lifts

  • Load capacity: 300 pounds to 500 pounds
  • Height and reach: 15 feet to 30 feet
  • Space requirements: With small footprints, easy maneuverability and a tight or zero-degree turn radius, vertical lifts are perfect for tight spaces. Models with narrow platforms are handy for performing certain types of ceiling work without removing the ceiling grid.
  • Indoor or outdoor use? Vertical mast lifts are ideal for indoor work but can also be used outdoors. Electric-powered vertical mast lifts won’t damage floors or emit exhaust.

Visit our online marketplace to browse our selection of aerial work platforms.

Was this article helpful?