Helicopter pilots are mostly needed for transporting people or equipment short distances. Some helicopter pilots work for mining corporations taking supplies and personnel into and out of the bush. They may be hired by government agencies to track and document wildlife, or they may work as air traffic reporters. In many instances, helicopters have been brought in on an emergency basis to rescue hurt or lost people who are in an area inaccessible by any other means other than a helicopter. Because a helicopter can hover in one position, it makes them invaluable in situations requiring that an aircraft remain stationary. Helicopter pilots are also used by the military to operate single and multi-crew aircraft for offensive or defensive purposes.
Slinging loads beneath a helicopter is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. A helicopter pilot must consider the effects of wind, weather, and terrain when transporting, releasing, or connecting to a slung load. In addition, helicopters are often called upon when conditions are too unstable and dangerous for a fixed wing aircraft. This means that the average helicopter pilot will face more dangerous situations than the average fixed wing pilot.
Most employers require a minimum amount of logged flight time for helicopter pilots. It may be as little as 500 hours or as many as 3,500 hours. Other minimums may be required as applicable to the helicopter and nature of the job. Some companies prefer that job candidates are Certified Flight Instructors as they know that entails additional training and experience on the part of the pilot.
Flight instruction at an FAA or Transport Canada-certified flight school is required in order to earn a commercial pilot’s license. Pilots need additional certification to qualify for flying helicopters and the process is not cheap. Helicopter rental is extremely expensive, but it’s necessary for flight lessons and for building up logged flight time. Because of insurance company requirements, renting a helicopter for personal use is usually impossible or cost prohibitive and usually is only done through a certified helicopter flight training center. Many helicopter pilots receive their training through military service. This training is free, but it entails years of military service in exchange.
Scheduling varies considerably from one company to the next. Some corporate helicopter pilots have a semi-regular schedule while others are on call, and still others will do a combination of both. Some companies offer only seasonal work, such as firefighting in the warmer months during fire season, or they may require pilots every month of the year.
Helicopter Pilot Salary and Benefits
Benefits usually include paid vacation, dental and life insurance, sick leave, retirement plan. Unlike when working for a commercial airline, most corporate pilots do not have the benefit of free or reduced airfare for themselves or immediate family members.