How to Choose the Right Aerial Lift

Aerial Lift Types and lift selection guide | Alexander Equipment

Whether you're looking to rent or purchase an aerial lift, the first thing that must be accomplished is choosing the right lift for the job at hand. There are many different types of Mobile Elevating Work Platforms or MEWPs (formerly referred to as AWPs) available from multiple manufacturers.

If you're an expert certified aerial operator, you will have no problem deciding which type of aerial lift is right for the job, but if you're new to the world of MEWPs, here are some of the criteria for choosing the right lift:

Take a look at our Aerial Lift Types diagram that depicts types and sub-types of aerial lifts as well as power source. Visit our Lift Specification Library for detailed model specific information on all types of aerial lifts from major manufacturers such as Genie, Skyjack, JLG, Snorkel and more.

Aerial Lift Types Overview

First, let's start by explaining the differences between the different types of MEWPs

Scissor Lifts

Scissor lifts have a base that is the same size as the work platform and are designed to lift personnel and their equipment vertically. Most modern scissor lifts come equipped with an extension deck that will allow a minimum of horizontal reach. Scissor lifts are typically available in platform heights that range from 15 to over 50 feet high.

There are two basic types of scissor lifts

Aerial Scissor Lift Types

Electric Slab Scissor Lift

This type of scissor lift has a low ground clearance and is best suited for inside jobs on a concrete floor where very low emissions are required. Most electric scissor lifts are equipped with non-marking tires. Narrow widths are available that can easily go through a 36" framed door opening.

Engine Powered and Hybrid Rough Terrain Scissor Lift

This type of scissor lift can be used to travel over rough terrain to where the work is needed. Available in diesel, dual fuel (gas & LP), hybrid (comes equipped with an onboard gas powered generator that can charge the batteries when needed even when no electric service is available) and 4 wheel drive as options. Some models are equipped with outriggers for elevating on sloped surfaces. Rough terrain scissor lifts generally allow higher occupancy and weight limits.

Boom Lifts

Boom lifts are an excellent solution for hard-to-reach jobs and/or jobs that require considerable heights, delivering a stable and secure work platform. Boom lifts are typically available in platform heights that range from 30 to 135 feet high.

Boom Lifts are available in three types:

Aerial Boom Lift Types

Telescopic Boom Lifts

This type of MEWP has a maneuverable boom that extends in a straight line from a base. Telescopic boom lifts offer the greatest horizontal reach of all aerial lifts. They are available in diesel or dual fuel (gas & LP) power options as well as 4 wheel drive and can travel safely over rough terrain outdoors.

Articulating Boom Lifts

These mobile elevating work platforms are equipped with a movable boom arm with multiple sections that hinge or articulate, allowing the operator to gain access to work areas over obstacles and barriers. Also referred to as knuckle booms or up-and-over booms, these versatile MEWPs are perfect for tight access and hard-to-reach areas.

Engine powered articulating boom lifts (available in dual fuel and diesel power options) are an excellent choice when a combination of vertical lift, horizontal reach and rough terrain maneuverability is needed.

Electric articulating boom lifts offer quiet, emission free operation in an indoor environment where the surface is firm and level such as a concrete floor.

Towable Boom Lifts

Trailer mounted or towable boom lifts let you tackle many of the same jobs as other electric or engine powered booms, but with an extremely portable transportation option. They can be hooked up to the bumper hitch of most pickup trucks and towed by the operator to the job site without the need of heavy equipment transport. Available in gas or electric power, towable boom lifts are great for construction, exterior painting, decorating or maintenance tasks.

Vertical Mast Lifts

Also known as personnel lifts, these vertical elevating lifts are ideal for warehousing, stock-picking, inventory management, and general maintenance. Relatively light weight, compact and great when space is limited. They can increase your overall productivity. Available in self-propelled electric and push around options and are best used on a firm level surface such as a concrete floor.

Aerial Vertical Mast Lift Types

Now, let's ask a few questions to help you filter the available choices:

Which manufacturer should I choose?

Although there are slight variations, most aerial work platforms are similar in the way they are operated. When it comes to manufacturers the choice is like choosing between Ford and Chevy. It's primarily a consumer preference, since all aerial lift manufactures have the responsibility of building MEWPs that meet ANSI, SAIA and OSHA standards in the USA. So once we choose between Genie, Skyjack, JLG, Snorkel or any other major equipment manufacturer, it's time answer some important questions.


Is the work to be performed inside or outside?

  • If the answer is inside, we will want to consider electric powered MEWPs because of very low emissions.
  • If the answer is outside engine powered aerial lifts will be best because they will offer greater power and many are available in 4 wheel drive, rough terrain options. Engine powered lifts are typically available in dual fuel (gas and LP) or diesel power.

What is the terrain like where the work is to be completed?

  • If the lift is intended to be operated on a firm level surface like concrete floor, electric slab scissor lifts, electric articulating boom lifts or a vertical mast lift will be best suited for the task.
  • If the work to be performed is outside and on undulating terrain, an engine powered telescopic boom lift, engine powered articulating boom lift or rough terrain scissor lift would be best.

Are there obstacles between the nearest point an aerial lift can be positioned and the work area?

  • If there are obstacles that would prohibit the aerial lift from being positioned directly below the work site, a boom lift will be the right choice.
  • If the MEWP can be positioned directly under the work area so that elevating vertically allows personnel to access the work site, a scissor lift will be a safe choice.

How high will the operator need to be to perform the task?

  • This should be a simple question to answer. Once we determine the needed work height we can eliminate some of the choices.

What is the total weight (incl. personnel) that the aerial lift needs to elevate?

All MEWPs have a stated maximum platform lifting capacity. This can be found in the operator's manual and on the data plate attached to the machine. Determine how many people will be needed to complete the job and what equipment the personnel using the aerial lift will need, then add up all estimated weight. The total number of pounds in the platform will help you determine which aerial lift is safe for your job.

Visit the Lift Spec. Library for weight capacity and other characteristics of particular lift model and brand.

Other factors to consider

  • What is the accessibility for loading and unloading aerial lift equipment?
  • Check the path of ingress and egress to determine the minimum width and height that an aerial lift will have to travel to make it safely to the work place.
  • How much weight is the job site flooring material rated to handle?
  • Once you determine your aerial lift options, check out the Alexander Equipment Lift Specifications Library to check all dimensions and machine weight to make sure you have the best MEWP for the job.

Good luck €and stay safe working on aerial lifts!