So, becoming a helicopter pilot sounds interesting to you, does it?
Well, there is a lot you should know about what it takes to be a helicopter pilot and the path to get there. There are a whole lot of reasons to consider aviation careers for your future. The wages are strong, benefits are good, and there is ample opportunity due to worker shortages in many careers.
This article will help you understand what education is needed, the estimated salaries you can expect, and the types of certifications you should consider to improve your future earnings.
If you are still researching career options it would be a great idea to see if there is a helicopter school near you that would allow you to a demo flight. This might help you see if this is a career you should be considering!
What Does A Helicopter Pilot Do?
First, you should know that helicopters are sometimes also called rotorcraft or rotary-wing aircraft due to the rotor blades that rotate at the top of the aircraft. So, if you see jobs for rotorcraft operators or something like that, it is probably going to be a helicopter job.
A helicopter pilot’s job is to safely transport passengers and crew from one destination to another. It is one of many career options in transportation.
They must be able to handle stress and stay calm in difficult situations. They also need to have excellent communication skills, so that they can relay information to air traffic controllers or other pilots.
Commercial helicopter pilots could find themselves doing any one of the following:
- Flying passengers and cargo to various destinations
- Responding to emergency situations like fires or floods
- Conducting search and rescue operations
- Providing aerial support for law enforcement
- Transporting medical personnel and patients
- Private transportation for corporations or individuals
- Work with conservation groups for game capture
- Utility company support
- News reporting
In the past, helicopters were primarily used for military purposes. But now they can be found in many industries like medical, utility, and corporate. Helicopters are often used in rescue missions and medical emergencies but with the advancements in their technology and the capability to be more usable in rough weather, they are growing in popularity.
How To Become A Helicopter Pilot
Becoming a commercial helicopter pilot does require a bit of training and experience. Below are the typical steps to getting hired as a helicopter pilot.
There are some basic requirements you will need to meet to become a commercial helicopter pilot.
- Be 18 years of age or older
- Have a high school diploma or GED
- Speak and write fluently in English
- Meet requirements for FAA class 2 medical certificate
If you meet those criteria, then it is time to find a place to get your flight training done.
Attend A Flight School
There are a ton of flight schools out there for you to attend. They can offer everything from certification programs to even Bachelor’s degrees in aviation.
Don’t rule out the military as well! The military can be a great way to get your training done, especially the Army which offers a large rotary wing force.
Most training will be part ground school and part flying school.
Ground school will take place in a classroom environment and will cover the basics of helicopters, meteorology, aerodynamics, and more. The flying school will be the active practice of flying.
So, how do you decide which school is right for you?
Here are a few questions you should ask:
- What type of certification is offered
- Can I earn a commercial and private license
- What type of aircraft will be flown during training
- What areas will the training be held in (mountains, oceans, night, etc.)
- Will training be provided for all weather conditions
- How long until certification courses are completed
- Does the school offer financial aid
- Is job placement provided, if so what is the job placement rate
- How many hours of flight time will be completed at the end of my training
Be sure you have the financial aspect of school covered. If the school does not offer any financial aid, you will need to take out loans or can apply for various scholarships. Veterans may be able to use VA Benefits to cover the costs, so be sure to check that out!
Helicopter School Costs
Unfortunately, it is costly to attend flight school. Because they need aircraft mechanics, have fuel costs, and require a minimum number of flight hours, costs can run in the tens of thousands.
Costs for a private license can be as much as $20,000 while commercial licenses can run $30,000-$40,000.
These prices are based on a few schools that we reached out to. It is important you contact the school you are considering attending to find out about any financial help you can receive.
Types of Helicopter Licenses
There are typically two types of helicopter pilot licenses, private and commercial. You should earn your private pilot license before you go for your commercial license.
Private License Requirement
With a private license, you cannot fly with passengers or make money. You can fly for fun, or help nonprofit organizations that may need flight assistance.
The minimum requirements as noted by the FAA are:
- 20 hours of flight training with an authorized teacher
- 40 hours of total flight time
- 3 hours cross country and night flight training in a helicopter
- One cross-country night flight (50 nautical mile minimum)
- 10 takeoffs and landings to a complete stop
- 3 hours of flight training to prepare for a practical test
- 10 hours solo helicopter flight time
- 3 hours solo cross-country flight
- 3 takeoffs and landings to a full stop with a control tower
- One solo cross-country flight of at least 75 nautical miles containing 3 landing points.
Remember, these are minimum requirements.
Commercial License Requirements
The minimum requirements as noted by the FAA are:
- Pass written, oral, and practice flight test
- Hold a current private license
- Log at least 150 hours of flight time, at least 100 in a helicopter
There are also some other certifications you can get as well that can make your job pool much larger.
- Commercial Flight Instructor Rating allows you to train others to fly helicopters. You will need to hold a commercial helicopter pilot license and undergo additional testing to get this rating added to your license.
- Helicopter Instrument Rating allows you the opportunity to fly a helicopter in more diverse conditions and situations.
- Airline Transport Pilot License is the coveted license that allows you to fly passengers as a helicopter pilot. The training and flight hours are much more in-depth and this level requires a commercial license with an instrument rating as well.
Achieving all of these certifications would do amazing things for your career!
Job Outlook For Helicopter Pilots
The global lack of helicopter pilots is projected to worsen in the coming years.
This means there is a very large demand for helicopter pilots.
It is predicted that there will be a shortage of 61,000 pilots by 2038, as stated in the 2021 Pilot Outlook Report published by Boeing Company.
So, if you are looking for a trade career that can pretty much guarantee a job after training, helicopter pilot is a great pick.
Even local communities are seeing issues today with the lack of pilots. Virginia State Police had to reduce their Med-Flight services in parts of Virginia due to a lack of available pilots. This signifies what could become a bigger issue if the job gap is not filled.
These openings are due to the retirement of many pilots as well as the growth of the industry. Many careers in aviation have these kinds of staffing shortages, crop dusters are also seeing issues in hiring!
Helicopter Pilot Salaries
There is no formal data specific to helicopter pilots, but it is not uncommon to earn 6-figures or more if you have the credentials.
For those just starting out, you will see much lower wages to start. But as you build your flight log and gain new certifications you will see your salary grow.
Below is some information to help you get an idea of the salaries helicopter pilots can earn with different experiences and in different sectors.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics offers salary data for airline and commercial pilots, which includes helicopter pilots.
The median annual salary for commercial pilots is $99,640.
Manufacturing typically pays the highest wages while ambulance or medical services pay the lowest wages.
Below are a few job postings that we found that had salary details. You can view more on the aviation job website JSfirm. This is also a great way to see the requirements of different types of pilot jobs.
Helicopter Pilot – El Dorado Arkansas
Medical Transport Company
Starting base of $82,000-$92,000 annually
$15,000 sign-on bonus
$25,000 retention bonus within 24 months
Certified Flight Instructor – Warwick, Rhode Island
New CFI – $45,000 annually
Senior CFI – $55,000 annually
These are only 2 job profiles, but you can see the salaries are pretty good. Doing some homework on the different types of helicopter pilot job boards might help you solidify your long-term career goals.