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Why are the airlines looking for helicopter pilots?

Updated: May 23, 2023

Why are airlines approaching and actively recruiting helicopter pilots? Why are helicopter pilots being propositioned to convert to fixed wing pilots and join the airline?

There are a few reasons for this :

Pilot Shortage

In one of my blog posts I explained about the helicopter pilot shortage (read post here). Sadly there is not only a shortage of helicopter pilots, but the fixed wing industry is facing a severe labor shortage of its own.

Boeing estimated that by 2036 the global airline industry will need 637,000 new commercial airline pilots. A recent study released by the global management consulting firm Oliver Wyman estimates that we are likely to see a shortage of 34,000-50,000 pilots by 2025, and this issue may continue to grow throughout the decade.

The shortage has become sufficiently severe for airlines to tap into the helicopter world to help meet its demand.

Rotorcraft Transition Programs and Incentives

Over the last couple of years, rotorcraft transition programs have sprung up across the U.S. The programs, tailored mainly for military helicopter pilots leaving the service, offer to pay for their commercial airplane training, licenses, ratings and offering additional sign on bonuses. They also dangle the proposition of a structured pathway to a lucrative career at the end of the program.

Airlines like SkyWest provides a direct path for rotor pilots to enter the commercial aviation industry. You’ll begin accruing company seniority, will receive an enhanced introduction to SkyWest, and have access to mentors and interview prep. You’re also eligible for up to $17,500 in tuition reimbursement for fixed-wing transition training and an additional $7,500 bonus for military aviators.

Some RTC programs even guarantee you a First Officer position to start your professional pilot career. and a clear and step-by-step path to not just one, but 4 Major Airlines.

Rotor Transition Programs for Civilian Helicopter Pilots

A key reason why airlines are chasing military pilots is because the new FAA training rules only require them to have 750 hours of additional training, half the 1,500 required of of civilians seeking a commercial pilot license. Military helicopter pilots only need additional training in flying fixed wing aircraft, which takes about 90 days.

What I have found in the last few months however is that more and more airlines and Rotor Transition Course (RTC) programs are also including civilian helicopter pilots. The prerequisite for the RTC is:

Military Pilots: If you are a military flight school graduate with your rotor commercial license and

instrument rating and 750 total hours, you can transition into fixed wing professional flight in as little as 90 days.

Civilian Pilots: If you are a civilian helicopter pilot with 1,500 hours you can transition into fixed wing professional flight in as little as 90 days.

The Rotor Transition Program is a transition training pathway to assist military and civilian pilots who possess a helicopter commercial license, with instrument privileges, to translate their skills into becoming airline pilots. This program is open to all helicopter pilots who have minimum total flight times of either 750 hours for military and 1500 hours for civilian. This rotor transition program training is designed to assist the transitioning helicopter pilot in bridging the gap from their current FAA ratings to obtain the required 250 hours of Pilot in Command (PIC) flight time and airplane commercial multi-engine and instrument ratings

If you are currently a Helicopter pilot with 750-1500 flight hours you might be tempted to change your career path, especially with huge incentives and higher salaries being offered.

Recruitment and Salary

You just have to look on recruitment sites lately to see the new tactic that is being deployed by Airlines and Airline recruiters.

You search for "Helicopter Pilot Jobs" and in between the posts there are fixed wing pilot (First Officer, Pilot, SIC,) positions being advertised to the helicopter pilots. Now if you are in the market for a job and you see the following, won't you be interested? Especially with a starting salary that is much higher than what a helicopter pilot position would offer.

Example from a job listing (see below)

First Officer - qualifications needed:

Helicopter Pilots: Two thousand hours helicopter flight experience, One thousand five hundred hours Pilot in Command with at least 200 hours unaided night, as Pilot in Command Required

Fixed Wing Pilots: Three thousand five hundred hours total flight time, Two thousand five hundred hours Pilot in Command of multi engine aircraft, and one thousand five hundred hours of Pilot in Command of a turbine powered aircraft or be insurable as a ‘named pilot’. Required

Helicopter Pilots got Mad Skills

Flying a helicopter takes a lot of skill. You can fly a helicopter in places where you can never fly a plane. You can land and take off nearly anywhere. Most helicopter jobs are dangerous and sometimes nerve wrecking, think about fire fighting, emergency services, search and rescue, lifting and military missions.

There's no auto pilot, no sitting back and relaxing, you are physically flying the machine at all times. You are always hands-on. You have to know what you are doing at all times, you have to be able to think on your feet. You have to be level headed and calm all the time. You always have to have safety in mind.

It's these amazing skills that makes you so attractive to the airlines. They are looking for pilots who are experienced, calm, level-headed, passionate and safe. You are all of this.

There are many more reasons why the airlines are looking at Helicopter Pilots, these are just a few.

The question remains, how will this influence the helicopter pilot shortage and what can the helicopter industry do about it?

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