As a commercial helicopter pilot you could find yourself working for the armed forces, law enforcement, search and rescue operations, or media organizations.
Helicopters are a fast and efficient way of getting to a place quickly, looking for something (or someone) on the ground, or accessing remote places.
As a helicopter pilot, you’re assured of an exciting work day that will be ever changing.
Helicopter pilots usually have a strong interest in aviation.
Good coordination and dexterity is also required.
You’ll need to be a quick thinker and good problem solver as well.
Becoming a helicopter pilot can take many years of training and theory practice, but if you get excited about the thought of spending your days in the skies, then this will be a good choice of career path for you.
Education Requirements to Become a Helicopter Pilot
It’s never too early to start training to become a helicopter pilot, and for that matter, it’s never too late either.
People from their teens to their fifties start taking lessons to work towards their license.
Becoming a helicopter pilot is not cheap, and it is likely that you will spend a similar amount of time in becoming commercially licensed as you would getting a college degree.
To begin with, you will need to qualify as a student pilot.
You don’t need any flying experience for this, but you do need to speak English and be in good health.
The FAA will then grant you permission to start learning.
After 40 hours of flying practice you are eligible to apply for your private helicopter license.
However, many people need more training than this to be able to pass the examinations.
There is also a theory component to this license that you must study for.
There are three exams in all for a private license, a written exam, an oral exam, and a practical component.
To work as a helicopter pilot, you need to gain your commercial license, which is another 150 hours of flying experience, plus another lot of written exams.
One way to cut your costs is to become an instructor.
This way you will be able to build your hours up with much less expense than usual.
Another alternative pathway to becoming a helicopter pilot is a career in the military.
After joining the armed forces, you will be paid a salary while training as a helicopter pilot.
You will need to commit a certain amount of years of service to pursue this route.
Many helicopter pilots today started their career in the military.
Helicopter Pilot Job Description
A helicopter pilot could find themselves completing missions for the military, providing traffic reports for a media agency, taking people on tour flights, or working as an instructor.
Here are some of the tasks a commercial helicopter pilot could find themselves completing.
- Conducting sweeps for law enforcement
- Conducting search and rescue operations
- Assisting firefighters in emergency situations
- Teaching students to fly helicopters
- Taking people on rides
- Completing military operations
- Assisting in searches for missing persons
- Working with media or news agencies
Helicopter Pilot Salary and Career Path
Many jobs for commercial helicopter pilots require much more hours of flight time than what is required to gain your license.
This means that just getting your commercial license is no guarantee of a job.
Many pilots work as instructors for some time, tour guides, or other jobs at a low amount of time, in order to get their hours up.
While very competitive, the alternative pathway is to join the military and work within aviation.
Not only does this cut out the expense of gaining your license, but also allows you to build up your hours without spending a lot of money.
Many pilots work with the military, then leave to work in the commercial or private sector.
Some helicopter pilots go on to senior position in the military, supervisory positions within aviation, or go on to own their own flight schools or aircraft.
When building your hours up as an instructor, you can expect to earn very little pay.
However, a commercial helicopter pilot earns a median wage of $65,000 a year.
The aviation industry is competitive, and working as a helicopter pilot is difficult.
There are more pilots than jobs, and training takes a long time and is expensive.
However, if you are passionate about the role, and determined to succeed, then it is well worth pursuing.
Frequently Asked Questions
What does a helicopter pilot do?
The main responsibilities of helicopter pilots include the inspection of controls, instruments, and systems before beginning the flight; consulting with dispatchers and weather forecasts; operating the controls and monitoring the systems during the flight; sometimes the helicopter pilot is also responsible for creating a flight plan.
In case you want to become a pilot, you would need to undergo serious training.
Professionals work in a wide range of industries – they can simply carry cargo and passengers from one point to the other; transport people to medical facilities; carry emergency workers to disaster sites; move medical supplies and food; rescue victims; perform passenger tours or aerial photography…
Helicopter pilots might offer flight services to customers, work for a company or for an individual employer.
How much do helicopter pilots make?
The income of a helicopter pilot will vary depending on various factors.
The employer, the overall experience, and the numbers of hours worked should be taken into consideration.
According to the BLS (the Bureau of Labor Statistics), helicopter pilots make on average a little more than $77.000 per year.
You can expect to earn anywhere between $39.000 and $147.000 annually.
The helicopter pilots that work for travel companies or small transit companies tend to make much less than the professionals who work for certain individuals or large corporations.
How much does it cost to become a helicopter pilot?
To become a helicopter pilot you would need to attend special training.
Helicopter pilot training with an instructor will cost up to $200 per hour.
You would have to pay around $30-$40 for on-ground training.
All-in-all, you would need to spend between $10.000 and $15.000 to obtain a license.
There are different types of pilot licenses and the cost of those will vary.
A commercial helicopter pilot license, for example, will cost you around $28.500 in the United States, while a private pilot certificate costs a little more than $13.500.
What is the demand for helicopter pilots?
Over the next few years, the United States will face a shortage of helicopter pilots.
Between 2018 and 2036, there will be a projected shortage of over 7.600 pilots in the country.
For nearly a decade, the number of wanna-be pilots tended to match the number of those who retired.
More and more helicopter pilots will be retiring, while others will be moving to other markets (the airlines pay better and sometimes ask helicopter pilots to train to become an airplane pilot).
Even though helicopters might lose some small-scale jobs to drones, the field would still need a lot of new specialists.
How long does it take to become a helicopter pilot?
Some students are able to earn their private-pilot certificate from a flight school in only 35 hours.
In case you want to become a commercial helicopter pilot, you would have to have at least 150 total flight hours (with a minimum of 100 PIC hours).
To earn a private license you would need to have only 40 hours of flight time.