Helicopter Pilot

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What does a Commercial Helicopter Pilot Do?

Commercial helicopter pilots work in a variety of industries, carrying passengers and cargo from one location to another. Pilots might transport accident victims to medical facilities, rescue victims of natural disasters, move emergency food and medical supplies or carry emergency workers to disaster sites.

Commercial helicopter pilots might perform services such as aerial photography, passenger tours or traffic information relay. Some helicopter pilots work privately for individual employers, while others offer flight services to a variety of customers.

The work of a helicopter pilot can be varied, challenging and interesting. If you have a good hand-to-eye coordination, communication skills, and the ability to work well under pressure, this career could be for you.


What are the Responsibilities of Helicopter Pilots?

You could:

  • Research relevant information on expected weather conditions, airspace restrictions, and destination landing facilities
  • File the flight plan, having checked for altitude, weather conditions and any airspace restrictions
  • Calculate fuel requirements and maximum loads
  • Check instruments on board prior to take-off
  • Communicate with air traffic control to request clearance to take-off and coordinate flight plans
  • Control the direction, speed, and altitude of the aircraft whilst in flight
  • Navigate during flight
  • Take responsibility for the safety of any passengers on board
  • Complete any necessary post-flight paperwork

What Qualifications & Skills Do I Need to Become a Commercial Helicopter Pilot?

In order to become a commercial helicopter pilot you must gain the Commercial Pilot’s Licence (Helicopter) (CPL(H)). This is the standard professional licence. Subsequently, you can go on to acquire the Airline Transport Pilot (Helicopter) Licence (ATPL(H)). This is the senior licence, which is necessary for piloting two-crew helicopters.

You can get the CPL(H) in one of two ways:

Modular Training

This is a route for those who have already gained a Private Pilot’s Licence (Helicopter) (PPL(H)).

The PPL(H) licence is for private use only to fly with friends, relatives or colleagues and does not allow you to fly for ‘hire or reward’, or commercial use. But you can use it as an entry to commercial pilot training. You can get further details on how to gain the PPL(H) on the British Helicopter Association’s (BHA) website. It will cost at least £12,000, possibly up to £20,000, to gain the private pilot’s licence.

If you embark on a full-time programme, it would take at least 9 months for you to obtain the CPL(H), and longer if the study is undertaken part time.

Integrated Training

This route combines all aspects of the training requirements (flying and theoretical) and integrates them into a unified course.

This course must be taken full time and is provided by an approved ‘Integrated’ Flight Training Organisation (FTO). The course lasts 12 months.

Entry qualifications vary among training providers, but generally they would require a minimum of 5 subjects at National 5, including English and Maths or Physics as well as the satisfactory completion of aptitude tests.

The course covers 135 hours flying time, including 50 hours as pilot in command, and at least 350 hours of theoretical study.

This is followed by the 13 theory examinations and then by the commercial pilot ‘skill test’.

In order to become an effective and successful helicopter pilot you must possess the following skills: ability to stay calm in crises, quick reaction times, ability to concentrate on multiple things at a time as well as being reliable and responsible.

What’s the Career Path for a Commercial Helicopter Pilot?

You would start your career as a co-pilot or second officer, and with experience you could gain promotion to captain.

With time, you also have the option to take advanced training in order to become an instructor.

You could become a self-employed pilot, or start up a business offering services such as air taxis, freight transport or pleasure flights.

As a helicopter pilot, you also have the opportunity to work in other parts of the world.

How Much Can I Earn as a Commercial Helicopter Pilot?

Actual pay rates for helicopter pilots may vary, depending on:

  • where you work
  • the size of the company or organisation you work for
  • the demand for the job
  • your length of experience.

Helicopter pilots in their first four years typically earn up to around £30,000 a year. With more experience this can rise to around £70,000 or more, particularly if working in the oil and gas industry.




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