Why Helicopter Pilots are in High Demand and How to Become One

Fair Lifts Training

A new study recently performed by the University of North Dakota (UND) in collaboration with Helicopter Association International (HAI) and Helicopter Foundation International (HFI), predicts there will be a shortage of 7,649 pilots in the United States alone between 2018 and 2036. This being the effect by a 1.5 percent increase in the country’s total number of airframes over the next two decades this means helicopter pilots are in high demand. In addition, many Vietnam War-era pilots are retired or retiring leaving open positions for younger or newer pilots. During the Vietnam War, more helicopter pilots were trained than any other time in military history to date. On top of this, regional air carriers in the U.S. are also offering candidates rotary to fixed-wing pilot transition programs. Many offer better incentive packages to draw employees away from smaller operators.

This is a great time to capitalize on this shortage though, for those interested in the field. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics includes helicopter pilots with all commercially rated pilots. For commercial flying jobs not including airline pilots, the BLS reported an average annual wage of $80,140 for commercial pilots in 2012. So exciting new locations to see from above, the prestige of being a licensed commercial pilot as well as making upwards of 80K a year sounds great, right?

Helicopter Pilots are in High Demand

Older helicopter pilots from the Vietnam War era are leaving piloting jobs behind as they move into retirement.

Helicopter Pilot Responsibilities

Once becoming a professional pilot in any field, you will be responsible for the aircraft, your cargo, crew, passengers and yourself. First, helicopter flight school must be completed. Overall flight training must meet the minimum requirements as outlined by the FAA. Second, you will need to perform tasks. This includes cargo checks, update passenger manifests, and chart courses. Pilots also monitor aircraft limits for weight, cargo capabilities, and study the weather. Next, you will perform aircraft maintenance checks, and file the regulatory paperwork needed to have a successful operation. Finally, you will also need to complete an annual physical exam. One must refrain from being in serious trouble with the law in order to be considered an employable pilot.

Beginner Helicopter Pilots have Numerous Job Opportunities

While in the beginning, you may find the options limited for helicopter jobs, once you reach more experience hours, you can choose to work in a large variety of exciting fields. The first field that generally is available for new commercial pilots is to be a CFI or certified flight instructor for other helicopter pilots. Most helicopter pilots begin their career here or have been one at least once during their careers. While teaching new pilots, you can gain additional experience, build your flight time and refine your maneuvers.

Another fairly common position for the new pilot is to provide tours of cities and incredible areas. For instance, helicopter charters in New York. Or Helicopter tours in Hawaii and the Grand Canyon. Both are top hiring spaces in the US for helicopter pilots. Other locations include Niagra Falls, Alaska, and so many more truly amazing areas. Each day, you will be carrying passengers or photo/video crews over the incredible scenery. You can even provide commentary about the area if you are familiar with it. This will build your flight time even faster. After one busy tour season, you may have enough flight time to move on to more advanced positions.

Helicopter Pilots are in High Demand
Beginner Pilots can fly helicopter tours of beautiful locations around the world, including Niagara Falls.

Where Can You Work as a Helicopter Pilot?

Being an EMS or emergency services operator is demanding and last minute calls are frequent. You also may need to be certified as a medical professional to get some of these jobs. As you will be transporting medical professionals and patients, you may be required to go through more in-depth flight training. Aerial firefighting using air cranes or helicopters with buckets/water carriers is another demanding field. During fire season in some regions, pilots may be away from home for months at a time. They also have to be up to date on VFR and IFR for night flights. This is in case of having to fly through other conditions such as fog or rain.

Law enforcement flights are often carried out by officials themselves. However, some helicopter companies will charter out their pilots and aircraft to assist local governing agencies. This can include rescues, patrols and suspect pursuits. Some law enforcement agencies may require you to spend time on the street initially. Heavy lifts can be anything from heavy machinery to the precise placement of machinery. Helicopters can place HVAC units atop tall buildings in tight city grids. In order for long and short line operations to take place, pilots must complete additional training to mitigate risk to themselves, workers and pedestrians.

Popular Industries Where Helicopter Pilots are in High Demand

Agriculture: When you work with agricultural helicopters, you will have the ability to work with farmers and major distributors to seed, fertilize, prevent frost, dry and survey crop areas.

Adventure Sports: Are you really into exciting or adrenaline rushing sports? Great! You can be a jump pilot for helicopter skydiving or even provide a lift for heli-skiers in some of the most beautiful locations all around the world!

Executive Charters: Most helicopter companies offer executive charters, air taxis or airport transfers for you to shuttle important people, VIPs, celebrities, government officials and the general public from one place to another.

Surveying: Aerial surveys are popular across numerous industries. From construction for site graphing to utility companies for lineman assistance and pipeline patrol. As well as providing surveys of wild animals. In Alaska, for instance, you can provide surveys for wild animals such as bears and elk populations.

Aerial Photography/Videography: If you love to take pictures or love to see really awesome locations as well, then aerial photography is an interesting field to go in. Private photographers and film industry veterans alike utilize helicopters.

Electronic News Gathering: News outlets will often times rely on helicopters for coverage of traffic, accidents, and events. It is much easier to fly above and maneuver around buildings in a helicopter.