Commercial Helicopter Pilot: Job Description, Duties and Outlook

Sep 20, 2019

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a commercial helicopter pilot. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about training, job duties and licensure to find out if this is the career for you.

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Commercial helicopter pilots have opportunities to work in a variety of industries, including tourism, transportation, media and travel. This field requires certain training and licensure in order to be eligible for employment.

Essential Information

Commercial helicopter pilots are employed in a variety of industries. They may be hired to transport passengers between destinations, conduct aerial tours of cities, landmarks and other features, transport cargo and provide electronic coverage for a news station. These professionals can receive necessary training through flight training school or the military. They must also attain licensure and certification.

Required Education Completion of flight training school or relevant military training
Other Requirements Certification for helicopter operation and medical certificate required, along with commercial pilot's license, instrument rating, plus good vision and hearing
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028)* 8% for commercial pilots
Median Annual Salary (May 2018)* $82,240 for commercial pilots

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Description

A commercial helicopter pilot usually transports passengers or cargo between destinations or is assigned to complete specific tasks such as aerial surveys or tours. These pilots may work in industries such as health care services, agriculture or tourism.

Commercial helicopter pilots must have a commercial pilot's license, an instrument rating, a medical certificate and a certification to operate a helicopter. These types of aircraft pilots may be trained by the military or through a flight training school. They must meet strict physical requirements, including 20/20 vision and good hearing.

Helicopter pilots face possible professional risks depending on what type of work is performed. For example, pilots of crop-dusting helicopters may be exposed to toxic chemicals. Also, they may risk hearing loss from the constant sound of the helicopter engines. Helicopter pilots may also need to work in an exposed cockpit in all types of weather.


Commercial helicopter pilots ensure the safety of their aircraft, passengers and cargo through pre-flight checks and strict adherence to flight safety policies and procedures. They are in constant communication with weather forecasters, dispatchers and tower control personnel. A commercial helicopter pilot plots a course and communicates take-off, landing and other aircraft procedures. They need to remain highly alert and be able to make precise adjustments to controls. Helicopter pilots must also possess good spatial orientation.

Helicopters generally make shorter trips at a lower altitude than airplanes. A commercial helicopter pilot must be aware of trees, power lines and other low-lying obstacles. He or she must monitor devices that detect sudden shifts in the wind and other dangers that could cause a malfunction or crash. Exact duties vary by job, but a commercial helicopter pilot may be responsible for dusting crops, transporting passengers, taking photos or collecting traffic information, among other things.


The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted the overall employment of commercial pilots to increase by 8% between 2018 and 2028. States with the highest concentration of commercial pilot jobs include Alaska and Montana. College graduates and former military pilots with extensive flight hours have the best job opportunities in this competitive job field. According to BLS, the middle 50% of commercial pilots earned between $61,950 and $115,280 in May 2018, with a mean annual wage of $82,240.

Commercial helicopter pilots must have a license, must complete flight school, and have a few other certificates before they can operate a helicopter. They can work in a few different industries, and the risks they face depend on the job being performed. Communication skills, knowledge of safety and strong flight skills are important for working in this industry.

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