Helicopter pilot

Career outlook for

Figures and forecasts for roles at the same level, which require similar skills and qualifications.

Average UK salary

Currently employed in Scotland

Jobs forecast

This information is supplied by LMI For All, where data is currently available for Scotland.

What's it like?

You would transport passengers in a helicopter for business, leisure or to respond to an emergency.

For example, you might transfer oil rig workers to an offshore platform, or take business clients between cities as part of a charter service.

It’s a responsible job; the crew and passengers will rely on you for a safe journey. They’d expect you to remain calm and act decisively if there was a crisis.

Before a flight you would:

  • Check weather conditions and airspace restrictions along your planned route
  • File flight plans
  • Work out fuel requirements and maximum loads
  • Check the helicopter's equipment and instruments
  • Carry out safety checks
  • Gain clearance from air traffic control to take off

During the flight, you’d use a range of instruments to navigate, control height and speed, and communicate with air traffic controllers.

After landing, you would fill in the post-flight paperwork, including a duty hours log, before preparing for the next flight.

You would fly single- and multi-engine helicopters. You might fly on your own or, on a larger helicopter, work as part of a team with a captain and co-pilot.

As well as being able to concentrate for long periods you’d need excellent hand-to-eye coordination and spatial awareness.

Working conditions

Hours

There are strict rules governing maximum flying hours, but your flight duties could include working days, nights or weekends.

Travel

Some jobs over longer distances could involve overnight stays away from home.

UK employment status

Full-time

Part-time

Self employed

Here are some of the skills that people in this job would be most likely to have:

  • Communicating with people
  • Working as part of a team
  • Communicating ideas through writing
  • Working on your own
  • Making decisions

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Getting in

Entry requirements for courses can change. Always contact the college, university or training provider to check exactly what you’ll need.

Qualifications

To become a commercial flying pilot you require a Commercial Pilot Licence (Helicopter) (CPL(H).

You can obtain the CPL(H) in two ways:

1. Modular training - this is for those who have already got their Private Pilot Licence (Helicopter) PPL(H). 

You can train for a Private Pilot's Licence (PPL(H) which you can use as a first step to commercial flying but does not allow you to charge for services. Therefore you cannot use this licence to fly commercially but you can use this to enable you to enter commercial pilot training - CPL(H). Following completion of the PPL(H) you will require to gain experience as a PPL(H) to achieve 155 hours helicopter flying time, of which at least 50 hours must have been as a pilot in charge of a helicopter. You will also be required to have at least 500 hours of theoretical study covering many aspects including the technical aspects of helicopter flying and aviation law.

To study for the commercial pilot examinations, you can undertake this in a classroom environment or via distance learning. At the end of the study programme you will be required to sit the nine commercial pilot examinations.

Once these have been completed and the necessary flight experience gained, then you can start a 35-hour 'commercial flying course'. This may be reduced to 30 hours when the PPL(H) includes night flying. Once this is completed you must undertake a commercial pilot 'skills test' with a CAA examiner before your CPL(H) can be issued.

2. Integrated Training - this can only be taken at a JAA approved 'integrated flight training organisation (FTP).

This course combines both the flying and theoretical knowledge. These courses are generally taken full time over 12 months and have fixed enrollment dates. Most integrated training colleges have pre-set entry requirements. To gain entry into most training schemes you'll normally need five qualifications at SCQF level 4/ 5 or above, have a professional pilot medical certificate and complete aptitude tests.

You will gain 135 hours of helicopter flight time including 50 hours as a pilot in charge of a helicopter.You would also complete 500 hours of theoretical knowledge in the classroom and once you have completed your exams you would also have to undertake a commercial pilot 'skills test' with a CAA examiner before your CPL(H) can be issued.

CPL(H) courses can cost in the region of £45,000 depending on the school. This cost does not normally include board and lodging. Undertaking a CPL(H) is an immense commitment with numerous considerations to be thought out. To gain your Private Pilot Licence (Helicopter) may cost more than £10,000.

Another way to gain flying experience is to sign up for pilot training with the armed forces; all three services branches of the forces have dedicated helicopter functions and many commercial pilots trained in HM forces.

Useful subjects

Most training routes into this job require: 

  • English
  • Maths
  • A science subject, ideally physics

Modern languages, ICT and Geography may also be helpful. 

You will also need

You can start training for your PPL(H) from 16 years of age and be granted your licence from 17 years of age.

You must complete aptitude tests to pass your CPL(H).

You need to be physically fit, hold a civil aviation authority (CAA) class 1 medical certificate and have good hearing, good eyesight and normal colour vision.

Sponsorship may occasionally be available and sponsoring companies normally require:

  • a current flying qualification
  • a civil aviation authority (CAA) class 1 medical certificate
  • Highers
  • that you be aged between 18 and 27