If you’re considering an aviation career, “How much do helicopter pilots make?” is an excellent question to be asking.
The answer is that it really depends on a number of factors. So, get ready for lift-off — we’re going to fly through all the need-to-know details right now!
Becoming a Helicopter Pilot
Earning your helicopter wings isn’t too complicated, but it does take time and work. To be a commercial helicopter pilot, you have to:
- Meet the minimum requirements (age, medical clearance, etc.)
- Attend ground school
- Complete flight school
- Accrue sufficient flight hours for a commercial certificate
- Apply for and get your license
Helicopter Pilot Jobs You Can Get
Many different kinds of helicopter pilot jobs are available today in both the public and private sectors. Among the possibilities are:
- Commercial helicopter pilots transport passengers or cargo for hire.
- Corporate helicopter pilots work for a business and only serve its employees and private clients.
- Military helicopter pilots fly helicopters for the armed forces.
- Air ambulance helicopter pilots transport patients to hospitals in emergency situations.
- Law enforcement helicopter pilots assist police and other law enforcement agencies.
- Aerial photography and survey helicopter pilots take aerial photographs and collect data for mapping and survey purposes.
- Search and rescue helicopter pilots locate and rescue people in distress.
- Agricultural helicopter pilots spray crops or perform other tasks related to farming.
- News helicopter pilots provide aerial footage for television news programs.
- Offshore oil and gas support helicopter pilots ferry personnel and supplies to and from rigs and often help with search and rescue operations and seismic surveys.
- Firefighting helicopter pilots assist in controlling and extinguishing wildfires.
- Air tour helicopter pilots provide sightseeing services to tourists.
- Helicopter flight instruction pilots teach the next generation of helicopter pilots how to fly.
Specific duties and responsibilities vary depending on the employer and the type of helicopter being flown. Geographic location can also shape the nature of the job.
How Helicopter Pilots Get Paid
Being a professional helicopter pilot is an important, demanding, and rewarding job. That’s why it’s so critical to make sure that you’re fairly compensated for the work that you do.
Like many other professions, a helicopter pilot’s total compensation package may be composed of multiple forms of earnings and reimbursements. These could include:
- Base salary
- Flight pay
- Overtime compensation
- Bonuses and commissions
- Per diem allowance
- Flight expenses
- Insurance coverage
- Other benefits and perks
The exact structure of compensation plans varies across jobs and employers.
Helicopter Pilot Salary Stats
Based on figures given by several job posting and salary survey sites, entry-level helicopter pilots in the US make an average salary of about $62K to $70K annually. Again, many pilots get other kinds of additional compensation, which could bank in at another $5K to $30K per year. Many helicopter pilot positions also offer a comprehensive benefits package.
However, you’ll likely earn more:
- The more years you’ve been piloting helicopters
- If you can fly larger aircraft
- If you have a non-entry-level job (e.g., You manage other employees.)
- The greater your skills
- If you live in a higher-paying location (e.g., California, New York, New Jersey, Nevada, and Wyoming)
With this in mind, our research indicates that the average salary for all levels of helicopter pilots in the US is in the range of $89K to $140K, plus bonuses, benefits, and all the other kinds of compensation.
Generic salaries are helpful to know, but here are some more specific ranges for popular helicopter pilot jobs. The figure offered for each position is the mean salary across all experience levels for the US as a whole.
Commercial Helicopter Pilot Salary
Commercial helicopter pilots can perform a broad range of work. They may work with private aviation providers, utility companies, flight schools, etc. An average yearly commercial helicopter pilot salary is somewhere around $98K.
EMS Helicopter Pilot Salary
The main role of an EMS helicopter pilot is to transport sick or injured people to the hospital or between hospitals to receive further medical care. An average EMS helicopter pilot salary should be in the ballpark of $97K per year.
Army Helicopter Pilot Salary
As an army helicopter pilot, you’ll be a highly-skilled officer. You could be responsible for operating helicopters in combat, for surveillance, to transport people and cargo, for search and rescue or evacuation of wounded. On average, an Army helicopter pilot salary is approximately $98K annually.
What’s the Return on Investment?
A lot goes into becoming a helicopter pilot. Is it worth the effort and expense?
If you ask us, we think so! After all, this is the path we’ve personally chosen for ourselves and continue on every day.
But really, to some extent, it’s a personal judgment call. Only you can determine if the pros outweigh the cons.
That caveat aside, let’s explore this a little more critically.
Benefits & Upsides
Helicopter piloting jobs are on the rise (so to speak), which means qualified helicopter pilots are in demand. Good employment prospects are a huge positive as it can equate to greater likelihood of steady, high-quality work opportunities.
Plus, compensation for helicopter pilot jobs tend to be very favorable. According to the Census Bureau, median household income in 2021 was about $71K. So, the average earnings to fly a helicopter are far and away above that threshold.
Lastly, you have to consider the non-financial aspects. Being a helicopter pilot can scratch your need for fun or thrills or helping others. Being a pilot is cool. Every day could be a new adventure!
Costs & Concerns
Operating a helicopter isn’t necessarily all roses all the time, though. It can be a tough, physically- and mentally-challenging job. Literally, other people are putting their lives and livelihoods in your hands with each flight.
Secondly, training to become a helicopter pilot can be expensive. On top of program and other certification fees, you may experience other expenses — like for gear and equipment, extra flight time, etc. You may also find it hard to work as much while earning your pilot’s license so there’s a potential of income loss.
The last thing to think about is opportunity cost and trade-offs. What are you giving up in order to become a helicopter pilot or have this sort of aviation career? What you’re forgoing could be financial (e.g., paying for flight instruction instead of investing in your retirement fund), social (e.g., less time to spend with family), personal (e.g., more stress and less sleep), etc.
Learning to Fly with Pureflight Pays Off Big
We know that making the decision to become a helicopter pilot can be hard. We’re here to answer your questions and help you understand your options.
When you’re ready to embark on your helicopter piloting career, we’re ready and eager to help with that, too.
Either way, let’s connect and kick off your aviation future today!
Get Your License Today
With decades of experience training pilots and working with industry partners, Pureflight has sharpened and streamlined its aviation training programs to provide a truly one-of-a-kind training experience for our students.
Operating an intentional fleet with unrivaled maintenance quality and facilities, we accept student loans and VA funding and provide high-quality, personalized training for flight students from around the world.