You’ll typically have just over 150 hours when you become a Commercial Pilot and are legal to work, but finding a helicopter pilot job at that point is not easy. Most large commercial helicopter operators are looking for 1,000 hours of helicopter flight time. So how do you bridge the gap?
There are two ways of getting to the 1,000 hour mark. The usual and more recognized way of doing this is to become a flight instructor. Schools hire instructors on a regular basis, as the turnover is relatively high due to the speed at which flight hours are gained. As a CFI, you build hours quickly, and develop invaluable problem-solving and decision-making skills that are needed for the next step in the helicopter industry.
The other way to build hours is to get a commercial helicopter pilot job that will allow you to fly with low hours. Crop spraying and flying for tuna boats are some examples. However, these jobs are few and far between and may take you a lot longer to build your hours up to 1,000.
LANCE RABER, FORMER OCEAN HELICOPTERS INSTRUCTOR
With 1,000 hours of Pilot in Command (PIC) time under your belt, you start to become marketable to larger commercial operators.
Typically, the first turbine helicopter pilot jobs you can expect to land are for tour operators in New York and the Grand Canyon, or for companies operating in the Gulf of Mexico in support of the offshore oil & gas industry. Both jobs often hire helicopter pilots with zero turbine helicopter hours, and will train them on their own aircraft.
These jobs are a great way to build turbine helicopter hours, which in turn opens the door for a number of other helicopter jobs. These can include utility companies flying mainly external load operations, emergency medical services using helicopters for patient transport, and high-end charter companies flying luxury VIP helicopters.
Every position is different, and the type of flying you will be doing along with your experience level will determine what salary you will be paid. As a good estimate though, a starting salary for a commercial pilot with 1,000 hours or more is about $47,000.
As you start to progress and gain experience, you will see this salary increase accordingly. It is not unusual to for helicopter pilots to earn from $60,000 to $100,000+.
11550 Aviation Blvd, Suite 1
West Palm Beach, FL 33412