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Helicopter Pilot: Job Description, Duties and Requirements

Helicopter pilots require significant formal education. Learn about the training, job duties and licensure requirements to see if this is the right career for you.

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There are so many jobs a commercial helicopter pilot can do: move people or things, collect data and information, or take photographs and video. But whatever job you want to do from your helicopter, you'll need to go to an FAA-approved flight school first, and then complete the required training hours in the cockpit.

Essential Information

Career helicopter pilots might carry passengers and cargo or assess and relay information from their bird's-eye view. They must complete an approved flight training program, gain the required hours of flight time and meet the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) licensing requirements. Helicopter pilots can work for an organization or for themselves, and their jobs can be as varied as conducting sightseeing flights or transporting accident victims to the hospital.

Required Education Flight training at an FAA-approved school
License FAA Commercial Pilot Rotorcraft license
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 10% (commercial pilots)*
Median Annual Salary (2015) $76,150 (commercial pilots)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Job Description

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.

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Duties

Commercial helicopter pilots inspect aircraft, controls, systems and instruments before beginning a flight. Pre-flight checks also include consulting with weather forecasts and dispatchers, which provides the information necessary to create a flight plan. The flight plan determines the safest and most efficient route. Pilots operate the controls and monitor the instruments and systems, such as fuel consumption, to ensure the helicopter is functioning properly throughout a flight.

Requirements

Helicopter pilots must receive flight training at an FAA-approved flight school. Some pilots receive approved training in the military before embarking on careers in commercial helicopter piloting. To operate a helicopter, pilots must obtain an FAA Commercial Pilot Rotorcraft license. The commercial license allows pilots to operate helicopters for money or offer their services to customers.

Commercial helicopter pilots must complete 150 hours of flight time, 100 hours of flight time as the pilot in command with at least 50 hours in a helicopter and 10 hours of instrument flying experience, as well as pass a written exam and a flight test. Individuals are required to hold a medical certificate that's renewed annually for a commercial helicopter pilot's license. Commercial pilots can qualify for instrument rating to fly during periods of low visibility by completing additional hours of instrument flying experience.

Once you finish your flight school training, log enough flight time and pass the licensing tests, you can work for yourself or for a company, and a wide variety of jobs are available. Demand for helicopter pilots is on the rise, and these jobs can be fairly well-compensated. You could give aerial tours, carry supplies and personnel to and from emergencies, provide traffic information, or all of the above and more.

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