Chopper, copter, helo, whirlybird. Even the nicknames for helicopters are exhilarating. It’s no wonder you’re investigating a career in this fascinating sector of the aviation world.
However, before embarking on this flight path, it’s wise to understand what kind of jobs there are for helicopter pilots. In this post we present:
- Possible professional tracks you can take
- Salaries and job prospect information
- Some other things you might consider before committing yourself
Helicopter Pilot Career — Jobs for Commercial Pilots
At first blush, it may not seem like there’s a kaleidoscope of career opportunities for helicopter pilots. Happily, that’s simply not the case.
Helicopter pilots have a rich world of job possibilities before them. With dedication and an adventurous spirit, you, too, could have the helicopter piloting career of your dreams.
Types of Helicopter Jobs
Part of the allure of helicopter jobs is that they exist in so many industries. You’ll discover a variety of flying and non-flying opportunities in both the public and the private sector. Some industries that commonly hire helicopter pilots include:
- Communications and broadcasting
- Oil and utilities
- Transportation (cargo and people)
- Military, law enforcement, and civil service
Moreover, there’s a broad array of employment arrangements. You can find roles as an employee or as an independent contractor. There are full-time and part-time jobs. Some positions are seasonal rather than year-round.
If you’re learning to pilot and pursuing a career in the military, your job options and requirements may differ from those in the non-military sectors.
Up in the Air: Helicopter Pilot Careers That’ll Have You Flying
Seeing how many different directions aviation careers are venturing out to, it’s not surprising that there are many and diverse jobs for helicopter pilots. Here are just some of the position titles you might see on recruiting boards:
- Aerial crop dusting pilot
- Aerial livestock herding pilot
- Sightseeing pilot
- Air taxi pilot
- Cargo transport pilot
- Charter pilot
- Corporate pilot
- Aerial photography and filming pilot
- Media, news, and traffic reporting pilot
- Flight Instructor
- Test pilot
- Aircraft salesperson
- Oil rig pilot
- Powerline surveys and maintenance crew pilot
- Aerial survey pilot
- Firefighting pilot
- Helicopter air ambulance pilot
- Search & Rescue (SAR) pilot
- Police or sheriff’s office pilot
- Military (Marines, Coast Guard, etc.) pilot
Which ones pique your interest?
Grounded but Still Soaring: Non-Flying Jobs as a Helicopter Pilot
With a helicopter pilot’s license, you may also qualify for a ton of rewarding on-the-ground jobs. After all, it takes more than just airborne pilots for an aviation operation to function.
It depends upon the company or organization, but — to keep choppers in the air and business humming — there will always be demand for specialists in aviation safety, fleet and facility management, operations and personnel management, engineering, leadership, education, and mechanical/technical systems.
By way of illustration, here are some jobs that fit in these categories:
- Air traffic control
- Aircraft dispatch and scheduling
- Airport or business operations or customer service management or support
- Aircraft finance, insurance, and legal services
- Aviation safety inspection
- Maintenance and support
- Quality control (manufacturing)
Earthbound jobs for pilots are a terrific option for anyone interested in working in this field. These are especially wonderful career paths for those who don’t wish to fly or can’t work as a pilot (e.g., for medical reasons).
Entry-Level Helicopter Pilot Jobs
Many jobs require you to have racked up 500 to 1,000 hours of piloting experience before they’ll even take your application. As a new private-licensed pilot, you’ll probably only have around 150 hours on the books.
For this reason, beginner helicopter pilot jobs are often ones as flight instructors. You only need 200 flight hours for this job. Being a flight instructor can be a great first job as a pilot — it lets you work in your desired field, reinforce your piloting skills, continue amassing flight time, and earn a paycheck.
Additional training and flying experience is the ticket to other job types and advancement along your career trajectory.
What Can You Do with a Private Helicopter License (PPL)?
A PPL entitles you to fly solo or with others for recreation and to practice your skills and accrue flight time. It doesn’t permit you to carry passengers or make money from your flying endeavors. You’re taking to the skies in a personal capacity, not as a business mission.
From a career perspective, your PPL serves as a stepping stone. You have to have a private license before you can get a commercial helicopter license (CPL).
Jobs Flying Helicopter — Pilots’ Salaries & Job Prospects
You’re probably curious to know how much a helicopter pilot in the United States stands to make. With so much invested in becoming a chopper pilot — it’s no wonder you want to know what the payoff might be.
Compensation can vary widely. The figures depend on a slew of factors like your education, certifications and ratings, additional skills, years experience, and so on.
- That said, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (November 2021) indicated that helicopter pilots In the United States earn an average annual salary of around $99,000. Their data also reported that the average annual salary range for helicopter pilots is essentially between $84,000 and $128,000.
- What about those who aren’t salaried? One source reported the average hourly rate for a helicopter pilot in the United States is $49.
- Your employer may provide some fun perks — like discounted travel and meal allowances — that can really add up to equal a tidy sum.
It’s also important to think about long-term earnings and job potential. Both compensation and job openings are forecasted to grow steadily over the next several years. In fact, aviation occupations are expanding at a faster than average rate.
Helicopter pilots are highly-sought after because there’s a worldwide pilot shortage, which is expected to last for at least the next decade. This dearth is a result of helicopters being employed in new ways, more industries leveraging helicopters for their operations, and because the current supply of pilots is aging and retiring faster than new pilots are available.
This means you could be in a fairly strong position job-wise.
Is It Worth Becoming a Helicopter Pilot?
Only you can decide if career prospects merit the time, money, and energy involved in attaining your helicopter pilot license. However, we can suggest some other things to consider as you figure out your next move. With more information, you can more thoroughly and thoughtfully weigh the costs and benefits.
Requirements & Process
Firstly, you should have a solid understanding of the requirements and steps involved in becoming a helicopter pilot. We cover that in-depth in our How to Become a Helicopter Pilot article.
Time & Money
Next, it’s a good idea to be fully aware of the total amount of money and time you’re going to put towards getting your license. Your overall training spend and duration will depend on the educational route you take if your training is close to home, how compressed your program schedule is, etc.
- All in, you could be on the hook for $25,000 to $40,000 for a PPL and $60,000 to $100,000 for a CPL. This includes everything from ground school tuition and exam fees to insurance and safety gear.
- As for how long it could take, with full-time training, PPL certification can take 2-4 months and a CPL certification can take 4-10 months. It generally takes students 8-12 months to complete a flight training program because most don’t train full time.
Lifestyle & Other Considerations
Here are some other, non-monetary points to ponder as you evaluate whether or not helicopter piloting is for you.
- Your work will probably be exciting and dynamic.
- You’ll get to spend a lot of time flying or in the air.
- You’ll be learning non-stop.
- Many jobs have variable or atypical schedules.
- You may need to relocate for your job.
- Being a helicopter pilot can be a stressful, physically- and mentally-taxing job.
- Flying a helicopter is harder and riskier than flying a plane.
Helicopter Pilot Careers That Take Off Start at Pureflight Aviation Training
The first step in getting the helicopter pilot job you’ve always wanted begins with getting the right education and support. Pureflight Aviation Training helps you from start to finish so you can be more successful in your aviation training and career pursuits. With our exceptional Helicopter License Flight School, you’ll get expert instruction and personalized attention. For additional information, we encourage you to reach out today.