Do I Need a College Degree to Become a Helicopter Pilot?

Although you don't always need a college degree in order to become a helicopter pilot, that doesn't mean that you won't need extensive training and preparation. If you'd like to take to the skies and are willing to work hard, then a career as a helicopter pilot might be right for you. Read on to learn more. Schools offering Aviation Management degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Becoming a Helicopter Pilot

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that it's increasingly common for pilots of all types of aircraft to have a college degree (www.bls.gov). If you'd like to be a helicopter pilot but also want the ability to enter other aviation careers, such as management, regulations or manufacturing, an aviation degree can be very useful. It's important to remember that even though it's possible to get a job piloting helicopters without a degree, you will need a commercial rotorcraft license, at the very least.

Important Facts About Helicopter Pilots

Key Skills Ability to solve problems, communicate, react quickly, and observe and see well
Similar Occupations Bus driver, flight attendant, air traffic controller, railroad worker
Work Environment Majority of pilots work for larger airports; may work long hours when flying; hazardous conditions, such as bad weather and darkness, are common
On-the-Job Training Must log thousands of hours of flight time; military offers pilot training

License Requirements

Helicopter pilots have the option of earning four types of licenses. In order from beginning to advanced, they are: student, private, commercial and Certified Flight Instructor (CFI). The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) dictates that students fulfill varying amounts of flight time for each level of licensing.

Both helicopter flight school and pilot degree programs are designed to help you meet these requirements along with any additional requirements, such as written testing. In order to successfully complete any of these programs, you must also be able to pass an FAA medical exam.

Degree Options

If you'd like to earn your pilot's license in a college setting, you might choose to earn an undergraduate degree in a professional pilot program. In these programs, you'll study basic aviation topics, such as FAA regulations and aviation systems, and receive hands-on flight training. Some of these programs give you the option of earning more than one level of licensing; you might choose to earn a private license, or you may be able to earn all licensing levels, including the CFI rating. Some schools may also offer non-degree helicopter training programs.

You might also choose to earn a degree in aviation science or aviation technology. These programs are similar to pilot programs in that they include courses on aviation fundamentals, from meteorology to navigation, although they may or may not include helicopter pilot training. If you decide to earn a degree in a program that does not offer pilot training, you may also attend a flight school separately to earn your pilot's license.

Career Outlook and Salary Information

Helicopter pilots can fly helicopters in a variety of industries, including aerial surveillance, cargo operations, firefighting, medical transport and traffic patrol. According to the BLS, job opportunities for all airline and commercial pilots, including helicopter pilots, are expected to increase 5% between 2014 and 2024; many pilots are expected to retire in this time frame, opening up positions for people entering the field. As of May 2014, the BLS reports that the median annual salary for all commercial pilots was $75,620. The states that paid the highest in this field were New Jersey, Connecticut, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Texas.

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