Helicopter Pilot Vs. Airplane Pilot

Helicopter and airplane pilots are both aircraft captains that are responsible for safe air travel. While airplane pilots work for airlines or commercial charter companies, helicopter pilots work for industries that include the news media and law enforcement.

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Comparing Helicopter Pilots to Airplane Pilots

While the titles helicopter pilot and airplane pilot let you know the type of aircraft each of these pilots specialize in flying, there are some important similarities and differences between the two professions to explore. Both types of pilots must be well-trained, and they are responsible for safe and time-efficient air travel. Helicopter pilots operate within a particular industry for which they have been trained, such as medical rescue or tourism. Airplane pilots may transport passengers as part of the airline industry or work as private pilots as part of a charter organization. Let's get a little more in depth below.

Job Title Education Requirements Median Salary Job Growth (2016-2026)*
Helicopter Pilot High school diploma
Completion of helicopter pilot license training program
$72,361 (2018)** 4% (for all commercial pilots)
Airplane Pilot High school diploma for commercial pilots; bachelor's degree for airline pilots
Completion of FAA-certified flight training program
$111,930 (2017)* 3% (for airline pilots)

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **PayScale.com

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  • Aeronautics, Aviation, and Aerospace Science
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Responsibilities of Helicopter Pilots vs. Airplane Pilots

As the captains of aircraft, helicopter and airplane pilots share many of the same responsibilities. These include overseeing pre-flight inspections, keeping constant communication with ground control, and following all safety regulations to ensure a safe, efficient flight. The main difference is that the work of a helicopter pilot tends to be much more specialized, as they often work as part of very specific industries that come with their own unique responsibilities, such as healthcare, law enforcement, and the news media. The most common type of airplane pilot we interact with are airline pilots, though employment is available as a charter, also referred to as private, pilot.

Helicopter Pilot

Helicopter pilots are responsible for safely flying passengers in helicopters. This entails inspecting the aircraft before takeoff, maintaining communication with ground control, and following all safety regulations during the flight. While these pilots fly from the cockpit, they also spend time working in landing pads and hangers. Helicopter pilots work for a variety of industries, including health/safety, tourism, law enforcement, and news media. A helicopter pilot's license, industry certification, and a minimum amount of flight hours are required for employment in this field.

Job responsibilities of a helicopter pilot include:

  • Properly securing passengers and cargo before flight
  • Making sure helicopters are up-to-date on inspections and repairs
  • Staying informed of the weather and other conditions that may affect travel
  • Managing the weight and fuel levels of the aircraft

Airplane Pilot

Airplane pilots are ultimately responsible for the safety and efficiency of all parts of the airplane flight process, from pre-flight inspections to the landing. Before take off they must check equipment, flight plans, and the weather. Airplane pilots must stay in communication with air traffic control during all parts of the flight, relaying information regarding flight information, such as any changes or emergency situations.

After gaining experience as commercial pilots, some pilots may work for an airline. These pilots should be be comfortable being away from home for extended periods of time, as they may work long and unusual hours or travel long distances. Airline pilots must successfully complete an FAA-certified training program and most have completed a bachelor's degree in the area of their choosing.

Job responsibilities of an airline pilot include:

  • Create and submit proper flight plans
  • Oversee fuel levels and all aircraft systems during flights
  • Maintain communication with ground control, flight crew, co-pilots, and passengers
  • Ensure that the airplane meets all safety regulations and is at the proper weight

Related Careers

If you are interested in flying, you may want to learn more about joining the military as an army pilot. Intrigued by working with different kinds of aircraft but you'd prefer to stay on the ground? You may enjoy a career as an aviation technologist.

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