Commercial helicopter pilots work in a variety of industries, carrying passengers and cargo from one location to another. Pilots might transport accident victims to medical facilities, rescue victims of natural disasters, move emergency food and medical supplies or carry emergency workers to disaster sites.
Commercial helicopter pilots might perform services such as aerial photography, passenger tours or traffic information relay. Some helicopter pilots work privately for individual employers, while others offer flight services to a variety of customers.
The work of a helicopter pilot can be varied, challenging and interesting. If you have a good hand-to-eye coordination, communication skills, and the ability to work well under pressure, this career could be for you.
Research: Conduct research on relevant information such as weather conditions, airspace restrictions, and destination landing facilities to ensure a safe and efficient flight.
Flight Planning: File the flight plan, having checked for altitude, weather conditions, and any airspace restrictions.
Fuel and Load Calculations: Calculate the fuel requirements and maximum loads based on the aircraft's capabilities and the intended flight path.
Pre-flight Checks: Conduct pre-flight checks to ensure that all instruments and equipment on board are functioning correctly before takeoff.
Communication: Communicate with air traffic control to request clearance to take-off, coordinate flight plans, and provide updates during the flight.
In-Flight Control: Control the direction, speed, and altitude of the aircraft while in flight to ensure a safe and efficient flight.
Navigation: Navigate during the flight, using maps, GPS, and other equipment to ensure the aircraft stays on course.
Passenger Safety: Take responsibility for the safety of any passengers on board, ensuring they are briefed on safety procedures and the use of emergency equipment.
Post-flight Paperwork: Complete any necessary post-flight paperwork, including flight logs and maintenance reports.
What Qualifications & Skills Do I Need to Become a Commercial Helicopter Pilot?
In order to become a commercial helicopter pilot you must gain a Commercial Pilot’s Licence (Helicopter) (CPL(H)). This is the standard professional licence.
Subsequently, you can go on to acquire a Airline Transport Pilot (Helicopter) Licence (ATPL(H)). An ATPL is used for commercial helicopter operations, including working for airlines, cargo companies, and other commercial helicopter operations. It is the highest level of certification for helicopter pilots, requiring significant training and experience to achieve. With an ATPL(H) license, pilots can operate helicopters with multiple engines, fly in all weather conditions, and operate under instrument flight rules, making them highly valuable in commercial aviation.
You can get the CPL(H) in one of two ways:
This is a route for those who have already gained a Private Pilot’s Licence (Helicopter) (PPL(H)).
The PPL(H) licence is for private use only to fly with friends, relatives or colleagues and does not allow you to fly for ‘hire or reward’, or commercial use. But you can use it as an entry to commercial pilot training. You can get further details on how to gain a PPL(H) here.
This route combines all aspects of the training requirements (flying and theoretical) and integrates them into a unified course.
This course must be taken full time and is provided by an approved ‘Integrated’ Flight Training Organisation (FTO). The course lasts 12 months.
Entry qualifications vary among training providers, but generally they would require a minimum of 5 subjects at National 5, including English and Maths or Physics as well as the satisfactory completion of aptitude tests.
The course covers 135 hours flying time, including 50 hours as pilot in command, and at least 350 hours of theoretical study. This is followed by the 13 theory examinations and then by the commercial pilot ‘skill test’.
In order to become an effective and successful helicopter pilot you must possess the following skills: ability to stay calm in crises, quick reaction times, ability to concentrate on multiple things at a time as well as being reliable and responsible.
What’s the Career Path for a Commercial Helicopter Pilot?
You would start your career as a co-pilot or second officer and with experience you could gain promotion to captain.
With time, you also have the option to take advanced training in order to become an instructor.
You could persue a career in:
Emergency medical services (EMS) pilot: transporting patients to hospitals and medical facilities
Firefighting pilot: dropping water or fire retardant from the air to fight wildfires
Law enforcement pilot: assisting law enforcement agencies with search and rescue operations, surveillance, and pursuit of suspects
Offshore oil and gas transport pilot: transporting personnel and supplies to offshore drilling platforms and rigs
Utility pilot: conducting power line inspections, crop dusting, and other tasks that require aerial support
VIP transport pilot: providing luxury transportation for high-profile individuals, such as business executives or celebrities
Military pilot: serving in the armed forces and conducting missions such as reconnaissance, search and rescue, and troop transport.
After gaining some experience, pilots can pursue additional training and certifications to advance their careers, such as becoming a flight instructor, instrument-rated pilot, or a designated pilot examiner. With additional experience and training, pilots may also be able to move up to more advanced positions, such as flying for executive transport or becoming a chief pilot.
The career path for a commercial helicopter pilot involves continuous training, building experience, and pursuing additional certifications to advance their career and take on more advanced roles.
How Much Can I Earn as a Commercial Helicopter Pilot?
The salary of a helicopter pilot who just started a career can vary widely based on several factors such as location, industry, employer, and experience level. However, on average, a newly licensed commercial helicopter pilot can expect to earn a starting salary of around $30,000 to $40,000 per year.
The average salary for a helicopter pilot is around $90,000 per year, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Commercial helicopter pilots who work for charter companies can earn anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000 per year, depending on experience and the type of missions they fly.
Helicopter pilots who work for the emergency medical services (EMS) can earn upwards of $75,000 per year, with some experienced pilots making over $100,000.
Helicopter pilots who fly for offshore oil rigs can earn between $75,000 to $150,000 per year, depending on experience and the company they work for.
Helicopter pilots who work for law enforcement agencies can earn anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000 per year, depending on experience and the agency they work for.
It's important to note that salaries can vary widely based on a number of factors, including experience, certifications, industry, and location.