What Is the Salary of a Helicopter Pilot?

Research what it takes to become a helicopter pilot. Learn about education requirements, job duties, median wages and job outlook to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Aviation Management degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is Helicopter Pilot?

Helicopter pilots are responsible for operating helicopters safely. As part of their duties they will perform maintenance checks before flight. They'll check the instruments and engine and ensure that everything is working properly. They also make sure that the helicopter has enough fuel for their scheduled flight. They keep a flight log, and they also need to report any mechanical concerns immediately. During flight they operate the helicopter using the instruments and control panels. They may need to follow a flight path or perform other functions during the flight. For example, helicopter tour guides may point out significant buildings or landmarks to their passengers. Helicopter pilots may also transport news crews who report on traffic issues, or helicopters used for transporting people who require medical care.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree common
Training Required Possesses second class commercial helicopter pilot certificate and requires 1,000 hours of helicopter flying time
Key Skills Communication, problem-solving, observational
Licensure or Certification Required Professional license and certification required
Job Growth (2014-2024) 10% (for all commercial pilots)*
Median Salary (January 2017) $89,246 (for all helicopter pilots)**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Salary.com

How Much Can I Earn as a Helicopter Pilot?

According to Salary.com in January 2017, helicopter pilots had a median salary of $89,246. October 2016 figures from Payscale.com show that helicopter pilots earned a salary ranging from $49,444 to $112,231 per year.

Where Do Professionals Work?

As a helicopter pilot, you could work for local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, news organizations, emergency medical services, the armed forces and private companies. However, experienced professionals warn that the supply of qualified pilots far exceeds the number of available positions. You may need as many as 1,500 hours of flight time to obtain a job.

What Will My Job Duties Be?

All helicopter pilots have a similar set of maintenance duties. You need to conduct pre-flight evaluations, keep a flight log, schedule preventive maintenance, make arrangements for unexpected or emergency repairs, and supervise the repair work performed by flight mechanics. You will also need to make sure flight instruments remain in FAA certified working order.

If you fly according to a regular schedule, you need to set a detailed flight plan that specifies origin and destination, take-off and landing time, flight path and speed. In flight, you need to avoid buildings or other structures, maintain a safe altitude and maintain overall control of the aircraft. The latter can be particularly demanding when flying in bad weather. On large helicopters, you will command and supervise a flight crew.

The purpose of your flights will vary by employer. In the military, you will perform routine patrols and operate helicopters in combat zones. Conducting reconnaissance, inserting ground troops, evacuating troops or providing air support will be your main duties in those instances. With law enforcement agencies, you will conduct patrols, track fleeing criminal suspects, and conduct emergency search and rescue missions. With medical service organizations, you will evacuate critically ill patients from accident scenes and transport them to hospitals. Other tasks you might encounter include supporting men and women fighting forest fires or carrying supplies to remote sites, such as mountain bases or oil rigs.

What Training Programs are Available?

You can obtain helicopter pilot training in the military or from private aviation schools and community colleges. School programs divide their content into air training and ground school, much like programs for fixed wing aircraft. Ground school covers such topics as aerodynamics, flight systems and instruments, flight operations, load balancing and FAA regulations. Air training familiarizes you with controls, reading instruments, lift-off and landing, basic maneuvers, and high and low altitude operation.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Airplane pilots and flight attendants share some common duties with helicopter pilots. Airplane pilots are responsible for maintenance checks, completing flight logs and for operating the airplane during the flight. They need a bachelor's degree and must complete flight training. Flight attendants assist the passengers during a flight. They may provide information to the passengers about a reason for a change in altitude, or a significant landmark the aircraft is passing by. This is similar to the duties a helicopter pilot may perform when they are providing a tour service and pointing out significant landmarks to tourists they're transporting. Flight attendants need a high school diploma or GED and must complete training provided by their employer.

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